Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons
During my lifetime as a pediatrician, vaccines have changed the face of child health. My daughter, a young pediatrician in a small town and parent of young children, has rarely seen and does not fear the diseases that occupied much of my time when I was a young doctor and parent. No wonder immunization has been considered the most important medical advance in the 20th Century! In the United States, killer/cripplers such as smallpox, polio, measles and rubella have been eliminated and meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis dramatically reduced.
But (exepting smallpox) these diseases are just an airplane ride away or are caused by germs that still exist in the United States (for example, pertussis and hepatitis). Not only do unimunnized US children run a risk of diseases such as measles 20-30 times greater than children who are vaccinated, they pose serious threats to other children in our communities who have conditions that prevent successful and safe immunization. Success in preventing these illnesses depends on maintaining high immunization rates in our communities. Experience in other developed countries where immunization rates were allowed to decline, have shown prompt return of epidemic illnesses.
Failure to adequately immunize too many of the 130 million children born annually in the rest of the world results annually in over 3 million deaths that could be prevented. Until these children receive vaccines, not only will too many die, they will continue to pose a threat to children in the United States. Sharing our vaccine success is not only in our direct self interest, it is economically, politically and morally the right thing to do.
Dr. Louis Z. Cooper is Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University. He was the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2001-2002 and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Academy's Center for Child Health Research.