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On Vaccines, Measles, And Tomorrowland

[Periodically, Family Care Centers will highlight the new, the cutting edge, and the curious – basically, the “Did you hear about this?” or “What do you think about that, doc?” medical stories. We love being lighthearted…but in light of recent events, this post is more serious.

All of the physicians and providers at Family Care Centers – including those at our newly renovated Fountain Valley Walk-In urgent care — encourage you to take an active role in your own health, and to have informed discussions about your health options. As a starting point, we offer the following hard facts. – Peter Kim, MD, Executive Medical Director, FCC]

Measles and vaccines are in the news, again.

This time, they’re connected with a bright shining light that we all know: Disneyland, right in our own backyard. As of Monday the 19th, there are now 52 cases: 10 from Orange County and others including children visiting from out of state, from visits to the park between December 17th and 20th. Most of these have returned to their homes and are being treated. They’re also being closely followed by public health departments, since active measles spreads aggressively to other unvaccinated children and adults (with a 90% transmission rate, the CDC estimates that between 12-40 unvaccinated individuals will get measles from a single case).

A local physician wrote a blog post about his tragic experience as a young doctor, with a child who had measles. A week later, his post has had over 2 million views.

We forget, because we live in the modern era, what it was like before. But doctors, through their training, sense of history, and memories of their own patients, remember:

Before vaccines, there were over 500,000 cases of measles each year in America – that’s over half a million people. After vaccines: less than two hundred. That’s a greater than 99% reduction.

Before vaccines, there were over 16,000 cases of paralytic polio in the US – ever seen movies where the character’s son or daughter was in an “iron lung?” After vaccines: an estimated 1 case per year average. 99+% reduction, again.

Before vaccines, smallpox afflicted just under 30,000 Americans each year; if you have dime sized scar on your shoulder, that’s an old smallpox vaccine mark. Nowadays, smallpox only exists in germ warfare laboratories, and has essentially been eradicated not just from America, but from the rest of the world.

Worldwide, the numbers are even more impressive:

Tetanus – “lockjaw” – killed nearly 800,000 babies each year according to 1988 World Health Organization records. After vaccine programs, that number is now just under 60,000; a lot, but still an impressive 700,000+ infant lives saved per year.

Measles deaths – doctors treat and have living memory of children who die from measles – dropped from over 500,000 annual deaths in 2000 to just under 140,000 in 2010 due to vaccine efforts. Those nearly 400,000 lives saved each year means an almost 75% reduction in measles deaths.

Save a few hundred thousand lives here and a few hundred thousand lives there, and pretty soon you’re talking real humanity.

Every year.

You may not be impressed with numbers, you may feel that statistics can be twisted to prove anything, and many doctors would agree with you: there is some valid criticism out there about positions and recommendations “from medical authorities.” But facts are stubborn things, and the numbers on this issue are ginormous and shockingly clear.

Whether you think or feel your way to a decision, vaccines save heaps and heaps of lives. They are the one shining beacon of pride that doctors, scientists, politicians, philanthropists, and parents can point to and say, “We’ve saved millions of lives with that.”

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Peter L Kim, MD

Dr. Kim,  is the Medical Director of Family Care Centers, Former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Hoag Hospital, and a recipient of the Physicians of Excellence award from the Orange County Medical Association. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has been practicing in our community for over 20 years. He is an excellent, caring, and well­qualified physician who is dedicated to providing you with superior health care. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from UCLA and received his medical training at the LAC­USC Medical Center. After completing his residency in Family Medicine, he accepted a sports medicine fellowship at San Jose Medical Center, an affiliate of Stanford University. He enjoys working with patients and families who are training or want to get back into an active lifestyle.

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