Why get vaccinated for diseases no one ever gets?
Quite simply, if children stop getting their shots, these diseases can return.
More than 30 years ago, 10 percent of all children with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) suffered brain damage, went deaf, or died. In 1985, the Hib vaccine was introduced, and Hib cases in the U.S. have dropped from an annual 20,000 to just a handful a year.
But even though nationwide vaccination efforts have largely eliminated diseases like Hib, polio, rubella, and diphtheria in the United States, these illnesses remain a threat because they still exist elsewhere, says Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Children still die of communicable diseases in areas of the world where vaccination is not practiced or available. The only disease considered completely eliminated from the world is smallpox, so babies are no longer vaccinated for that.
So how does polio in far-off lands endanger American babies? International travel. "These diseases are just a plane ride away," says Martin Myers, MD, director of the National Network for Immunization Information (NNII). Even if you don't travel to areas where polio is prevalent, such as India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, your children can easily bump into foreign tourists or other American travelers who unwittingly bring diseases into the United States because they don't realize they're infected. For example, measles can be brought into the U.S. when an unvaccinated traveler visits an area that contains the disease and returns home. If he is still in the incubation period, then there is no sign of infection and the virus is contagious to others.