How Many People Die from Vaccine Preventable Diseases These Days?

People don’t often die from vaccine-preventable diseases these days.

At least not in industrial countries.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Today

Well, they aren’t supposed to.

Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn't deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe - another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn’t deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe – another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.

Tragically, we are seeing more and more deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases every day in countries that once had these diseases under good control:

  • over 100 measles deaths across Europe and a measles death in the United States a few years ago
  • diphtheria deaths in Australia, Belgium, South Africa, and Venezuela
  • life-threatening tetanus cases in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ukraine
  • a rabies death in the United States in a child who’s parents skipped the post-exposure rabies vaccine
  • pertussis deaths in the United States
  • influenza – a record number of deaths in the United States, with most kids unvaccinated
  • rotavirus – yes, unvaccinated kids still die of rotavirus in the United States in the 21st Century! In a recent outbreak in California, in which a child died, almost all of the kids were unvaccinated.

And not surprisingly, these deaths are almost always in unvaccinated children.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Pre-Vaccine Era

While tragic, we are still fortunate that these deaths are no where close to the levels we once saw before we had vaccines to protect our kids.

In the pre-vaccine era, we used to see:

  • up to 15,000 deaths and 200,000 diphtheria cases each year until the 1940s
  • an average of 175,000 cases of pertussis each year in the early 1940s, with about 1,118 deaths from pertussis in 1950 and 467 deaths from pertussis in 1955
  • up to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio each year until the early 1950s
  • an average of about 186,000 cases of mumps each year before 1967, with an average of 40 deaths a year
  • up to 500 deaths and 500,000 measles cases each year until the early 1960s
  • a rubella epidemic in 1964-65 that caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome”
  • up to 20,000 cases of invasive H. influenzae (Hib) disease each year, with more than half of them having meningitis, and about 300 to 600 deaths, mostly children under age 2 years. In 1980, 45 children died with epiglottitis and there were an additional 222 deaths from Hib meningitis.
  • up to 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 chicken pox deaths each year until 1995
  • up to 17,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease in children younger than 5 years each year (before 2000), including 13,000 cases of bacteremia (blood infection) and 700 cases of pneumococcal meningitis, with 200 deaths.
  • just over 400,000 visits to the doctor and up to 272,000 visits to the emergency room, 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths each year in children under age 5 years because of rotavirus infections until 2006

But that deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t common is hardly a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines, as some might suggest. It is just testament to the fact that vaccines work.

That these deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases quickly rise as rates of vaccinations drop is a tragic reminder that vaccines are necessary.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

And what makes it even more tragic is that this was all predicted and could have been prevented if folks didn’t listen to anti-vaccine propaganda that scares them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

Worldwide Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Of course, talk of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases shouldn’t stop with the developed or industrial world.

Even as a lot of progress is being made, as more and more people get vaccinated, worldwide, there were:

  • about 89,780 measles deaths, mostly young children
  • about 215,000 deaths from rotavirus infections
  • at least 1 million deaths from hepatitis B
  • almost 200,000 deaths from Hib
  • over 4,200 deaths from chicken pox
  • about 50,000 deaths from meningococcal infections
  • about 160,000 deaths from pertussis
  • about 826,000 deaths from pneumococcal infections
  • almost 60,000 deaths from rabies
  • just over 70,000 deaths from tetanus
  • about 222,000 deaths from typhoid
  • between 30,000 to 60,000 deaths from yellow fever

As you can see, most of these diseases are still big killers around the world.

“You hear about people who don’t like to vaccinate their kids in the Western world, which I suppose is a personal choice, but when you’re out there, the result of your children not being vaccinated is that they’ll likely die, or be horribly maimed. So yes, I saw a real desire to have their children protected, and also a real understanding of it – I didn’t seem to come across anybody who went ‘What is it?’ Or ‘What does it do?’ They all seemed to know about it.”

Ewan McGregor on Cold Chain Mission

In most of these countries, the problem is access to vaccines though, not parents refusing to get their kids vaccinated.

What to Know About Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Unvaccinated kids are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

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