Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

Does it seem like we are moving in the wrong direction?

The eradication of smallpox shows just what vaccines can do!
The eradication of smallpox shows just what vaccines can do!

No, smallpox isn’t coming back, but many other vaccine-preventable diseases are.

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

With the availability of new vaccines and the expanded use of other vaccines, many of us were hopeful of the progress that was being made against vaccine-preventable diseases so far this decade.

Remember, it was just four years ago that the WHO certified India as a polio free country. And after years of declining numbers of wild polio cases, 2018 will be the first year with a higher number of cases than the previous year.

This hasn’t been a good year for measles either. The WHO Region of the Americas has lost its status as having eliminated measles!

In Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, endemic transmission of measles has been re-established, with spread to neighbouring countries. As a result, the Region has lost its status as having eliminated measles. The Regional Technical Advisory Group, which met in July 2018, emphasized the importance of Regional action and an urgent public health response to ensure re-verification of measles elimination in Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, October 2018 – Conclusions and recommendations

After years of declining rates, global measles cases and deaths began to jump in 2017, a trend that continued in 2018.

“Outbreaks in North America and in Europe emphasize that measles can easily spread even in countries with mature health systems. Due to ongoing outbreaks, measles is again considered endemic in Germany and Russia.”

2018 Assessment Report of the Global Vaccine Action Plan

And no, this isn’t just a problem in other parts of the world.

Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

More cases in other parts of the world mean more cases in the United States because unvaccinated folks travel out of the country and bring these diseases home with them, getting others sick.

But it wasn’t just measles outbreaks, including the second largest number of cases in 22 years, that we were seeing in 2018:

  • chicken pox – although the 41 cases involving a North Carolina Waldorf school got the most attention, there were at least 6,892 cases of chicken pox last year, which continues to trend down from recent highs of over 15,000 in 2010
  • hepatitis A – clusters of outbreaks in 15 states with at least 11,166 cases, many deaths, with exposures at popular restaurants
  • mumps – from recent highs of over 6,000 cases the last few years, we were “back down” to just over 2,000 mumps cases in 2018
  • pertussis – cases were also down in 2018, with a preliminary count of about 13,439 cases last year
  • meningococcal disease – isolated outbreaks continued last year, with cases at Smith College, Colgate University, and San Diego State University

And of course, we had one of the worst flu seasons in some time last year, with 185 pediatric flu deaths.

Fortunately, there were no cases of diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, polio, or congenital rubella syndrome. At least not in the United States.

Why are some disease counts down when so many folks say the anti-vaccine movement is more active than ever?

Remember, the great majority of people vaccinate and protect their kids!

And vaccines work!

It is best to think of the anti-vaccine movement, which has always been around, as a very vocal minority that is just pushing propaganda to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

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 these diseases are, allow themselves to be influenced by anti-vaccine propaganda, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Also remember that many of these diseases occurred in multi-year cycles in the pre-vaccine era. When an up year hits a cluster of unvaccinated kids, we get bigger outbreaks. And then more folks get vaccinated, starting the cycle all over again. At least until we finally get the disease under better control or finally eradicated.

Want to avoid getting a vaccine-preventable disease this year?

Get vaccinated and protected and encourage everyone else to get vaccinated too.

More on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

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