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During National Immunization Awareness Month, Pediatricians Look Back at Medicine Before Vaccines

Senior pediatricians remember how common and devastating diseases were before vaccines were available to protect children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recognizing National Immunization Awareness Month this August with a series, "Medicine Before Vaccines," written by senior pediatricians reminding parents what pediatric medicine was like before immunizations were available to protect against diseases like chickenpox, measles, meningitis and human papillomavirus.

“Vaccines are one of the most important measures families can take to protect their children from deadly diseases that not  long ago caused suffering for  thousands of U.S. children.  In this first-person article series, some of the Academy's most-distinguished senior members remind parents that vaccines are safe and save many lives," said Sandra M. Hassink, MD, FAAP, AAP president. "Immunizations are one of the most effective tools we have in medicine. National Immunization Awareness Month is a good reminder of how important it is for children to receive all their recommended vaccines."

The AAP will publish the first-person stories on throughout the month of August. Journalists who would like an advance look at the series, or an interview with a pediatrician, should contact AAP Media Relations.

In the first-person articles, pediatricians speak powerfully about how common and devastating many vaccine-preventable diseases once were:

"I saw kids die of measles encephalitis and pneumonia from a local Amish community. It was one of the hardest nights I had as a pediatrician, sitting next to a bed of a 1-year-old Amish child. I worked for hours administering a medication to reduce swelling of the brain, but after a while, the child stopped responding to the treatments and passed away."

- Kathleen Braico, MD, FAAP

I vividly remember how sick the children [suffering with measles] were, and I also remember the worried expressions that those parents had. They felt worried and helpless, and they had a right to feel worried, because some of these children died. I can tell you that the doctors were just as worried as the parents, because we could not do much. We had no tools to fight or prevent the disease."

- Olson Huff, MD FAAP

Children suffered the consequences of HIB. About 20 percent died and another 20 percent were left with permanent damage, including severe seizure disorders, hearing loss, learning disabilities and mental retardation. This may seem incredible today due to the success of immunizations, but it was a sad reality in the early years of my service as a pediatrician. … The vaccine is truly a blessing!"

- Lance Chilton, MD, FAAP

"During the over 15 years that I served as a member of the North Carolina Senate, I was chair or co-chair of the Senate Health Care Committee. In every session of the Senate, I had meetings with organizations and individuals who wanted to weaken North Carolina laws regarding vaccines and to add exceptions to requirements for immunizations. My personal experiences as well as scientific evidence so strongly supported the value of immunizations; I never allowed their legislation to advance. For this action I make no apologies.

- State Sen. William R. Purcell, MD, FAAP

The AAP has also produced an infographic providing impressive statistics and answering important questions about immunizations for parents.

The statistics include:
  • Out of 1,000 U.S. children who will catch the measles, one to three of them will die.
  • The average number of annual cases of measles in the 20th century in the United States was over a half million. In 2010, thanks to successful vaccines, there were only 63 cases.
  • 38 percent of children younger than 5 years who had measles required hospitalization.
  • 85 percent of babies born to mothers who had rubella in the first trimester will have birth defects.
  • More than 95 percent of people who receive measles, mumps and rubella vaccine become immune to all three diseases.
The AAP publishes Recommended Immunization Schedules to help parents discuss vaccines with their pediatricians. Visit for comprehensive information on National Immunization Awareness Month with links to resources and information.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 64,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

 AAP Media Contacts