CDC: Vaccine is best defense against measles

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the national Vaccines for Children program will prevent 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last two decades, according to a report released Thursday.

Health officials said the measles vaccine has saved nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs, which would have been incurred from hospitalizations due to the highly contagious virus.

"When I was a medical resident, it was very common to see children who were at risk for death from diseases that are now rarely seen in hospitals," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said at a press conference.

However, Frieden and other health officials recognize measles still has a strong presence in the U.S., which must be addressed by educating the public on the importance of vaccines and making the shots available to all families.

The measles outbreak in recent months has demonstrated the importance of the vaccination. Health officials said the majority of the 129 cases of measles this year were among people who were not up to date on their vaccines.

According to the CDC, 34 people who developed the virus in the U.S. were from other countries where the vaccine is not as readily available. Recent outbreaks have occurred in New York City and California's Orange County.

Frieden said U.S. health officials have placed an emphasis on global health security, working with countries where the virus runs rampant, such as the Philippines.

The initiatives include providing vaccinations to those communities and tracking any outbreaks that occur worldwide.

"Borders cannot stop diseases anymore, but vaccinations can," said Frieden.

In the U.S., 220 people developed measles in 2011. That number fell to 189 in 2013. The last reported death from the virus in the U.S. was in 2005.

Though the measles vaccine first became available in the U.S. in 1963, it wasn't used widely until 1994, when the government launched the Vaccines for Children program, in response to a measles outbreak that caused thousands of people to become ill and also killed hundreds.

Today, the program provides vaccines to families who are otherwise unable to afford them or have limited access to basic health care. This includes children on Medicaid, the uninsured and underinsured, as well as American Indians and Alaska Natives. This amounts to at least half of U.S. children under age 19.

VFC vaccinates children for more than a dozen viruses and diseases, including the human papillomavirus, known as HPV, mumps, tetanus, influenza and polio.

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious disease that is spread easily through the air and typically has symptoms that begin within seven to 14 days of infection. Symptoms include a blotchy rash, fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat aches, tiny white spots found inside the mouth and red, watery eyes.

About 30 percent of measles cases lead to serious complications, including pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends all children receive the MMR vaccine as well as any adults who are not certain if they've received their shots. Babies should get the measles vaccine at 12 months. Two doses are required to ensure full protection, and the second shot should be administered to children between 4 and 6 years old.

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