The value of vaccines: reported measles cases in the US

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MISCONCEPTION: Diseases had already begun to disappear before vaccines were introduced, because of better hygiene and sanitation.

Statements like this are very common in anti-vaccine literature, the intent apparently being to suggest that vaccines are not needed. Improved socioeconomic conditions have undoubtedly had an indirect impact on disease. Better nutrition, not to mention the development of antibiotics and other treatments, have increased survival rates among the sick; less crowded living conditions have reduced disease transmission; and lower birth rates have decreased the number of susceptible household contacts. But looking at the actual incidence of disease over the years can leave little doubt of the significant direct impact vaccines have had, even in modern times. Here, for example, is a graph showing the reported incidence of measles from 1950 to the present.

The value of vaccines: reported measles cases in the US

There were periodic peaks and valleys throughout the years, but the real, permanent drop in case of measles in the U.S. coincided with the licensure and wide use of measles vaccine beginning in 1963. Graphs for most other vaccine-preventable diseases show a similar pattern. Are we expected to believe that better sanitation caused incidence of each disease to drop, just at the time a vaccine for that disease was introduced?


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