Deadly Diseases: ‘Horror to History,’ Senate Committee on Vaccine Importance

“Vaccines save lives,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), the chairman of the Senate health committee at a hearing on the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Alexander said: “From smallpox to polio, we have learned in the United States that vaccines save lives. And yet a troubling number of parents are not vaccinating their children.”

The hearing was convened after a significant amount of discussion regarding the $5 billion the United States has spent to fight Ebola, which has no vaccine, while the number of outbreaks of diseases for which we have vaccines continues to grow at an alarming rate. The number of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids, Alexander said, is “troubling.”

Measles

Measles is a highly-contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. It spreads so easily that if one person has

it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not vaccinated or otherwise immune will also become infected. Prior to the development of a vaccine in 1963, measles sickened close to 4 million Americans annually. In 2000, measles was declared eliminated, because there had been no reported instances of disease transmission for greater than 12 months within the United States. From 2001 to 2012, the median yearly number of measles cases reported in all of the U.S. was 60.

The hearing on vaccinations was held on February 10, 2015. Senator Alexander noted that the date was the 41st day of the year, and already more cases of measles have been reported than would normally be reported in a typical year. Although measles is just one example, the hearing was held to recognize the importance of vaccinations. As Senator Alexander commented, “They take deadly, awful, ravaging diseases from horror to history.”

Testimony

“The Reemergence of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Exploring the Public Health Successes and Challenges” hearing was convened as a full committee meeting. Testimony reiterating the importance of vaccines was provided by Anne Schuchat, MD (RADM, USPHS), Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; Mark Sawyer, MD, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of California San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California; Tim Jacks, DO, FAAP, Parent, Pediatrician, and Every Child By Two Immunization Champion, Gilbert, AZ; and Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH , Director, Immunization Program, Tennessee Department of Health, Nashville, Tennessee.