What Are We Vaccinating Against?

Arkansas requires vaccinations for kids entering school. Vaccinating children is the best way to protect our kids and our communities from deadly infectious diseases. While our state does allow exemptions, students generally must have immunizations against a number of specific diseases:

  • poliomyelitis, also known as polio
  • tetanus
  • pertussis, also known as whooping cough
  • red (rubeola) measles
  • rubella, also known as German measles
  • mumps
  • hepatitis B
    hepatitis 4A
    meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis
    varicella, also known as chickenpox

See the full list of regulations.

Childhood Diseases

Many of the diseases on the list used to be known as “childhood diseases”—they were common among children, and many children died from them. Thanks to vaccines, these diseases are now rare, and the childhood mortality rate in the United States is low.

Consider polio as an example. Polio is a contagious disease that invades the brain and the spinal cord. Sufferers experienced paralysis and sometimes death. The year before the polio vaccine was available, 16,316 American children had polio, many were paralyzed, and 1,879 children died.

After the U.S. began requiring vaccination against polio, the number of cases drastically decreased. The last case of polio in the United States was in 1993, when a traveler brought polio into the country, and an American caught the disease.

Polio can still be brought into the U.S., so vaccination continues to be necessary.

Another common childhood disease in the past was pertussis, or whooping cough. The name came from the “whooping” sound people with the disease make in between coughs as they try to catch their breath. Hear the sound.

The disease is very contagious, and can lead to death. Pertussis used to be common. There were more than 200,000 cases reported in the United States in 1932. The vaccine has been widely used since the 1940s, and the number of cases has fallen sharply. In 1976, there were just 1,010 cases of whooping cough in the United States.

The whooping cough vaccine is given in a DTP shot that also includes immunizations for diphtheria and tetanus.

Chicken Pox and Measles

Chicken pox and measles were also common childhood diseases before American parents began vaccinating their children against these illnesses. Itchy rashes are symptoms of these diseases, but measles can also lead to brain damage and deafness.

Vaccines against measles were developed in the 1960s. Earlier in the 20th century, there were usually about 6,000 deaths each year from measles. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but there have been more recent outbreaks.

Rubella is sometimes called “German measles,” but it is caused by a different virus. Rubella may feel like a mild illness, but it can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their babies. In the 1964-1965 outbreak, there were 12.5 million cases in the United States. There were also 11,000 miscarriages, 2,100 infant deaths, and 20,000 babies with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Now, there are fewer than 10 cases reported each year. Travelers may bring rubella back to the U.S., but the disease has been eliminated here.

Chicken pox is generally less severe, but it can also lead to brain damage and even death. Before vaccinations were developed, the U.S typically had four million cases each year, with 100 to 150 deaths. Thanks to vaccinations, chicken pox is now 90% less common in the United States.

Vaccinating School Children

There is no question: vaccinating kids before they start school prevents the spread of these devastating diseases. Today’s parents rarely face the tragedy of seeing a child die from what used to be a common childhood disease. 

Make an appointment at Northwest Arkansas Pediatrics to keep your child—and our community—safe from these contagious diseases.

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