Updated
September 17th, 2016

Five Diseases Vaccines Have Vanished

Mumps, Measles, Pertussis, Polio and Diphtheria cases greatly reduced

young girl

The World Health Organization (WHO) believes the largest accomplishment in public health over the decades has been the introduction of vaccines.

Numerous research studies report vaccines have saved many lives, reduced healthcare costs and prevented extensive misery.

The WHO defines vaccine as a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins.

The agent stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and “remember” it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms when the body later encounters it.

There are five communicable diseases that were once rampant in the United States until the introduction of vaccines.

1. Measles
The first measles vaccine was licensed for use in the US in 1963. An average of 549,000 measles cases and 495 measles deaths were reported annually in the decade prior to the live measles vaccine.

In 1989, a second-dose vaccination schedule was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

By 2000, endemic measles was declared “eliminated” from the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2001-2011, 911 measles cases were reported. The median number of measles cases reported per year was 62 (range: 37-220 cases/year).

The majority of measles cases were unvaccinated (65%) or had unknown vaccination status (20%). The federal health agency notes that the majority of the people who got measles are unvaccinated and travelers continue to import measles into the country.

2. Pertussis
Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the US and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection.

Now we see about 10,000–40,000 cases reported each year and unfortunately about 10–20 deaths, according to CDC.

Since the early 1980s, there has been an overall trend of an increase in reported pertussis cases. Pertussis is naturally cyclic in nature, with peaks in disease every 3-5 years.

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But for the past 20-30 years, we’ve seen the peaks getting higher and overall case counts going up. Waning immunity of the pertussis vaccine is a main reason for this phenomenon.

The CDC explains:
When it comes to waning immunity, it seems that the acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) we use now may not protect for as long as the whole cell vaccine (DTP) we used to use. Due to these concerns, along with the availability of a safe and effective acellular vaccine, the US switched to acellular pertussis vaccines.

3. Diphtheria
The horrible disease, diphtheria, was once a major cause of illness and death in children. The U.S. recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths.

Before there was treatment (diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics) for diphtheria, up to half of the people who got the disease died from it.

In the past decade, there were less than five cases of diphtheria in the U.S. reported to CDC. However, since the disease is still seen in many countries around the world, maintaining vaccination status is key when traveling abroad (for diphtheria and other vaccine preventable diseases.)

4. Polio
Polio is a disease that struck fear into the hearts of Americans just more than a half-century ago. Images of children in an “iron lung” or those with horrible deformities was enough to scare any parent.

During 1949 saw 42,000 Americans paralyzed and 2,700 deaths from polio, rising in 1952 to 58,000 paralyzed and 3,000 fatalities.

Following introduction of vaccines—specifically, trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955 and trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in 1963, the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s, according to the CDC.

Since 1979 no cases of polio have originated in the United States.

5. Mumps
Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases were reported each year. That has decreased some 99% since the introduction of vaccines.

During 2014, 1,078 people in the United States have been reported to have mumps.

The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is very effective in protecting people against mumps, but it is not complete. Two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are 88% effective at protecting against mumps; one dose is 78% effective.