Vaccinations against many formerly common diseases of childhood have been with us for more than three generations. As a result, many people are unfamiliar with the symptoms and complications of diseases that affected millions of children in the past.
Vaccinations can protect children from contracting diseases when they are most vulnerable, while their immune systems are forming. In addition, widespread vaccination protects those children who cannot receive vaccinations (due to age, allergies or other factors) by reducing their exposure to contagious diseases.
This infographic (PDF, 6.8 MB) outlines the current vaccination schedule for children under the age of 6 recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Below is a list of some diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Statistical reports for hospitalizations and deaths show a dramatic decrease in incidence of these diseases in the United States due to widespread vaccination.
1950: 5,796 cases, 410 deaths
2007: 0 cases, 0 deaths
Diphtheria is a respiratory illness that causes a thick coating to build up in the nose and throat, making breathing and swallowing difficult.
1950: 319,124 cases, 468 deaths
2007: 43 cases, 0 deaths
A disease that begins with a high fever, cough, watery eyes and runny nose followed by a rash of red spots and fevers higher than 104.
1968: 152,209 cases, 25 deaths
2007: 800 cases, 0 deaths
An infection that leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands, mumps can also spread to the central nervous system, pancreas and the testes in males.
Hepatitis A & B
1966: 34,356 cases
2007: 7,498 cases
Hepatitis caused by different viruses damages the liver. Hepatitis A is spread through contamination of food and beverages; hepatitis B is spread through contaminated blood and other body fluids.
Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
1991: 2,764 cases, 17 deaths
2007: 2,541 cases, 10 deaths
A bacterial infection that can cause invasive infection, including meningitis, pneumonia, severe throat infection (epiglottitis), brain damage, hearing loss, limb loss, blood infection and death.
1950: 33,300 cases, 1,904 deaths
2007: 0 cases, 0 deaths
Polio begins with a sore throat and fever, headache, fatigue and nausea. Most people who contract the illness recover, but some suffer from permanent muscle weakness and paralysis; one in 25 develops meningitis. The U.S. has been free of polio since 1991 due to widespread vaccinations.
1972: 164,114 cases, 122 deaths
2007: 40,146, 6 deaths
The disease causes a high fever, headache and fatigue, then an itchy, fluid-filled blistering rash that spreads across the body. After having the chicken pox, the virus can reactivate in the nervous system as a painful condition called shingles — which requires a separate vaccination after age 50.
Pertussis (whooping cough)
1979: 1,623 cases, 6 deaths
2007: 10,454 cases, 9 deaths
Pertussis (whooping cough) is highly contagious and spreads quickly among unvaccinated individuals. It begins like a cold and within two weeks transforms into severe coughing fits that can lead to apnea (a pause in breathing), pneumonia, convulsions, encephalopathy and rib fractures. Pertussis rates were as low as 1,248 cases in 1981 and began increasing in correlation with the decreased rates of vaccination starting in the early 1990s.
1966: 46,975 cases, 12 deaths
2007: 11 cases, 1 death
Also known as German measles, rubella is especially dangerous for women of childbearing age, because it can cause birth defects including deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental retardation and liver and spleen damage in the developing baby.
1950: 486 cases, 336 deaths
2007: 28 cases, 5 deaths
Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a serious infection that causes the muscles of the body to tighten. It can lead to the victim being unable to open the mouth to swallow.