The diseases we vaccinate against have declined, but they haven’t disappeared. Recent outbreaks of mumps on college campuses, Hepatitis A in Michigan and around the country, measles at Disneyland and whooping cough (pertussis) cases in Michigan in 2014 show that vaccine-preventable diseases can easily make a comeback. All vaccine-preventable diseases can make people very sick; some can kill.

Other countries don’t have the same access to vaccines as we do in the United States. Vaccine-preventable diseases are only a plane-ride away, and if we stop vaccinating, vaccine-preventable diseases can and will return. This is why we still vaccinate against diseases we no longer see in our country. If the majority of our country stopped vaccinating, one infected traveler from another country could potentially spark an outbreak.

Fourteen diseases that cause serious medical problems can be prevented by age two through routine childhood vaccines:

Diphtheria

  • Caused by bacteria.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Causes sore throat, fever, and chills.
  • If not properly diagnosed and treated, it can produce a toxin that can cause heart failure or paralysis.
  • About 1 person in 10 infected with diphtheria dies.
  • Prior to vaccination (through the 1920s), about 150,000 people got diphtheria each year, and about 15,000 died.
  • Can be prevented with the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age.

Hepatitis A

  • Caused by hepatitis A virus.
  • Found mostly in bowel movements and spread by personal contact or through contaminated food or water.
  • Causes liver disease – muscle and stomach pain, diarrhea or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Children younger than about 6 years old might not have any symptoms.
  • About 100 people die each year from liver failure caused by hepatitis A.
  • Can be prevented with the Hepatitis A (HepA) vaccine, administered at ages 12 through 23 months and again 6 to 18 months after the first dose.

Hepatitis B

  • Caused by hepatitis B virus.
  • Spread through contact with blood or other body fluids.
  • Causes liver disease – muscle and stomach pain, diarrhea or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Some people recover and others become “chronically infected,” which can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.
  • Chronically infected people can infect others through, for example, unprotected sex or sharing needles.
  • Babies of chronically infected mothers are usually infected at birth.
  • About 3,000 to 5,000 people die each year from hepatitis B.
  • Can be prevented with the Hepatitis B (HepB) vaccine, administered at birth, with a second dose at 1 through 2 months of age and the final dose at 6 through 18 months.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

  • Caused by bacteria.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • If Hib bacteria enter the bloodstream they can cause meningitis, pneumonia, arthritis, and other serious medical problems.
  • Before vaccine, Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children younger than 5 (about 1 out of every 200 children in that age group). One child in 4 suffered permanent brain damage, and 1 in 20 died.
  • Can be prevented with the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 through 15 months of age.

Influenza (flu)

  • Caused by influenza virus.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • The flu is a serious upper respiratory disease (different than the common cold or a stomach virus). Even healthy people can get the flu and it can be very serious.
  • Causes fever, sore throat, cough, headache, chills and muscle aches.
  • Can lead to sinus infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the heart.
  • Hospitalization rates are high among children, especially babies under 1 year old.
  • Flu causes more deaths each year than any other vaccine-preventable disease – mostly among the elderly, but it can also kill children and young adults.
  • Can be prevented with the Influenza (flu) vaccine, administered every year starting when your child is 6 months old. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age may need 2 doses for the best protection.

Measles

  • Caused by measles virus.
  • Extremely contagious (which means a person who has the disease can easily spread it to other people).
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Causes a rash all over the body, runny nose, fever, and cough.
  • About 1 child in 10 also gets an ear infection, up to 1 in 20 gets pneumonia, 1 in 1,000 gets encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
  • Before vaccine, almost all children got measles – about 48,000 were hospitalized each year, 7,000 had seizures, about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage, and about 450 died.
  • Measles still kills about a half million people a year around the world.
  • About 1 person in 1,000 who gets measles will die.
  • Can be prevented with the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, administered at 12 through 15 months and 4 through 6 years of age. Infants 6 months to 11 months old should have 1 dose of MMR shot before traveling abroad.

Mumps

  • Caused by mumps virus.
  • Used to be a very common childhood disease.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Usually a relatively mild disease – causes fever, headache, and inflammation of salivary glands.
  • Mumps can lead to meningitis (about 1 child in 10), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or deafness (about 1 in 20,000) or death (about 1 in 10,000).
  • Can be prevented with the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, administered at 12 through 15 months and 4 through 6 years of age. Infants 6 months to 11 months old should have 1 dose of MMR shot before traveling abroad.

Pertussis (whooping cough)

  • Caused by bacteria.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Can look like a common cold at first.
  • After one or two weeks, it can cause violent coughing spells that can interfere with eating, drinking, or even breathing.
  • Can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain infection and death.
  • Can be prevented with the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age.

Pneumococcal Disease

  • Caused by bacteria.
  • Most common in winter and early spring.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • After Hib disease began to decline, pneumococcal disease became the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children under 5.
  • Can lead to ear infections, blood infections, and death.
  • At higher risk are African Americans, some Native American tribes, children with sickle cell disease or with HIV infection and children without a working spleen.
  • Can be prevented with the PCV13 (pneumococcal) vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 12 and 15 months of age.

Polio

  • Caused by polio virus.
  • Enters the body through the mouth.
  • Can cause paralysis, leaving a person unable to walk or even breathe.
  • About 1,200 polio victims in the United States were forced to live in 700-pound “iron lungs,” a large machine that allowed them to breathe. Several of these people, first confined to an iron lung in the 1950s, still live in them today.
  • Polio caused panic in the 1950s before vaccine – about 20,000 people were paralyzed each year.
  • Can be prevented with the Polio vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 through 18 months and 4 through 6 years of age.

Rotavirus

  • Caused by a virus.
  • Enters the body through the mouth.
  • Causes diarrhea and vomiting in young children – sometimes so severe it can lead to dehydration.
  • Before vaccine, rotavirus caused more than 400,000 doctor visits, 200,000 emergency room visits, up to 70,000 hospitalizations, and 20 to 60 deaths each year.
  • Can be prevented with the Rotavirus (RV) vaccine, administered at 2 months and 4 or 6 months of age, depending on the vaccine brand.

Rubella (German measles)

  • Caused by a virus.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Usually a mild disease, causing swollen glands in the neck, fever, rash on the face and neck, and sometimes arthritis-like symptoms.
  • The greatest danger from rubella is to unborn babies. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, her unborn baby has about an 80-percent chance of “congenital rubella syndrome” (CRS), which can lead to deafness, blindness, mental impairment, or heart or brain damage. Miscarriages are also common.
  • In 1964-65, before vaccine, rubella infected 12.5 million people in the United States and led to 20,000 cases of CRS.
  • Can be prevented with the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, administered at 12 through 15 months and 4 through 6 years of age. Infants 6 months to 11 months old should have 1 dose of MMR shot before traveling abroad.

Tetanus (lockjaw)

  • Caused by bacteria.
  • Tetanus is often found in soil and also found in saliva, dust and manure.
  • Enters the body through cuts, burns, or other breaks in the skin – not spread from person to person.
  • About three weeks after exposure, a child could become cranky, get a headache, or have spasms in the jaw muscles.
  • Tetanus can then produce a toxin that causes painful muscle cramps in the neck, arms, legs, and stomach – strong enough to break a child’s bones.
  • A child might have to spend several weeks in intensive care. One or two out of every 10 die.
  • Can be prevented with the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccine, administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age.

Varicella (chickenpox)

  • Caused by varicella virus.
  • Spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing, or just breathing.
  • Causes an itchy rash all over the body, fever, and drowsiness.
  • Usually mild, but can cause skin infections and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
  • For every 100,000 infants younger than 1 year old who get chickenpox, about 4 die.
  • If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox around the time of delivery, the baby can be infected, and 1 out of 3 will die if not treated quickly.
  • Before vaccine, almost every child (about 4 million each year) got chickenpox.
  • Can be prevented with the Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, administered at 12 through 15 months and 4 through 6 years of age.

Sources:
CDC: Parent’s Guide to Childhood Immunizations
CDC: Vaccines for Your Children
CDC: Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and the Vaccines that Prevent Them