Prevention is the Best Medicine

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Each year, vaccines save more lives than seat belts.

In 2015, The Immunization Partnership reported on the yearly impact of vaccinations. The report’s juxtaposition of seatbelts and vaccinations, both used for preventing injury, illness and death, serves as a reminder that a view of vaccinations through the lens of preventive healthcare can be a helpful and healthful perspective. 

Vaccines are listed on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and websites as preventive care. The CDC, a federal authority on immunizations, even has prevention in the name. Other preventive care methods involve screenings for potentially life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, HIV and diabetes. Preventive care, particularly immunization, is championed because it saves more dollars – and lives – than it costs overall.

Reducing Costs

According to the CDC, vaccinating children born between 1994 to 2013 will save 732,000 lives; more than the number of people currently living in Seattle. Additionally, every $1 spent on childhood vaccinations in the U.S. saves $10.20 in treatment costs for vaccine-preventable diseases, according to data compiled by Pfizer.

The individual and societal costs of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases include more than medical spend. Some costs impact the national economy as well. According to the CDC, special education for disabled children, worker’s compensation, and lost productivity from disability take an economic toll, as well as an individual toll, and can be prevented with vaccines.

Saving Lives

Researchers studying vaccines and screenings noted that preventive health services “straddle the worlds of clinical medicine and public health.” Vaccines have dramatically reduced our vulnerability to disease and have even eradicated smallpox, according to the CDC. The agency reported that between 1964 and 1965, a rubella outbreak infected 12.5 million Americans, leading to thousands of deaths. A few years later, the rubella vaccine was introduced in 1969. And, in 1970 – just one year later –  only 50,000 rubella cases were reported to the CDC. Fast forward 43 years, only nine rubella cases were reported to the CDC in 2013. 

Immunization works when all who are physically able to receive vaccines keep up with the CDC-recommended schedule. A certain threshold of immunization across communities, herd immunity, helps protect those with specific conditions who may not be able to receive vaccines. Herd immunity can also help keep communities healthy when disease is introduced via international travel, according to the CDC.   All of these factors can affect a community’s vulnerability to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, and contributed to the 2014-2015 Disneyland measles outbreak. Fortunately, last year’s California immunization report revealed that measles vaccination rates have exceeded the recommended herd immunity percentage and should help prevent future outbreaks. 

Seatbelts are the best form of injury prevention in case of trouble, but vaccines can do more; they not only protect patients that collide with disease, they can also prevent disease in the first place. Highlighting the benefits of immunization can start right in the doctor’s office. This is where providers can help patients reframe their view of vaccines. By “zooming out” to look at the impact of vaccines as preventive care, we can shed light on the protection of both individual and public health these tools provide.