In 1973, my 10-monthold daughter, too young to receive the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, contracted rubella, also known as the Germanmeasles. She safely recovered.
Two weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. Fortunately, I had been vaccinated against rubella and my son arrived eight months later, healthy. My vaccine produced an immunity that protected him from contracting congenital rubella syndrome during my pregnancy.
Pregnant women who contract rubella are at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth and their babies are at risk for severe birth defects and devastating lifelong consequences. The most common birth defects from CRS can include deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, liver and spleen damage and low birth weight.
We don’t hear much about rubella in the United States any more. The widespread use of the MMR vaccine has removed the threat from our community and established “herd immunity” — a level of immunity that prevents diseases from spreading throughout our communities.
But this is only possible through vaccinationsagainst deadly and destructive diseases, like rubella.
From the time of Abigail Adams, who had her children inoculated for smallpox using a rudimentary method, we have been searching for ways to prevent deadly diseases from cutting short the lives of those we love. Abigail Adams knew, more than 200 years ago, that the threat of disease could be reduced through science. In the mid-20th century, microbiologist Maurice Hilleman also knew this and changed the world.
The Arizona Partnership for Immunization hosted a screening of the documentary “Hilleman; A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children.” The documentary illuminated Hilleman’s depth of concern and love for children that motivated him to create vaccines that would be among the greatest scientific developments of the century.
Over his life, Hilleman produced eight of the 14 vaccines now recommended for children. The eradication of rubella is due in large part to Dr. Hilleman. The global rubella epidemic of 1963 was devastating; it caused the death of 11,000 newborns and birth defects in another 20,000 in the U.S. alone. One example of how science and modern medicine have changed the world we live in.
Parents no longer fear polio or diphtheria when their child has a cough or fever. Each vaccine takes on a different virus and Hilleman, along with the researchers who followed him into vaccine research, have eliminated many of the threats to our children’s health over the last 50 years.
While we cannot all be a Maurice Hilleman, we each play a role in keeping our community — our “herd” — healthy. Vaccinating ourselves and our family members is critically important.
Modern, safe and effective vaccines have been credited with extending life expectancy by 30 years. According to the CDC, vaccines have prevented 322 million illnesses, 732,000 deaths and nearly $1.4 trillion in societal costs over the past 20 years.
With the recent news that immunization rates in Arizona children are falling to percentages that may begin to affect the health of other children, we need look no further than the measles outbreak occurring in Minnesota to see what happens when vaccines are not provided.
Awareness of herd immunity and the proven efficacy and safety of modern vaccines cannot be overstated. As a mother and grandmother who remembers these life-threatening diseases, I encourageevery parent to be informed aboutthe risks and value of vaccines.
I celebrate Maurice Hilleman and the scientists who produced the vaccines that protected my family from disease. The vaccine I had as a young adult produced immunity that I passed on to my precious child.
What greater gift can be given than that of a healthy life to those we love?
Debbie McCune Davis is the director for The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, better known as TAPIand recently retired from the Arizona House of Representatives after 30 years of service. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.