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Vaccine's Value and Safety Explored
2000 Professionals attend the 31st National Immunization Conference
No health program has saved as many lives or spared as many years of productive life as the
United States childhood immunization program, according to Walter A. Orenstein, M.D., director
of CDC's National Immunization Program. Orenstein addressed more than 2,000 health care
professionals, scientists and researchers during the first day of the four-day 31st National
Immunization Conference held here.
"Immunization levels for children today are the highest ever. More importantly, most
diseases preventable with vaccines are at their lowest levels ever," Orenstein said. He
credited bold initiatives that improved outreach, ensured children from needy families have
access to free or low cost vaccines, and comprehensive state immunization laws enacted and
enforced in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia.
Public and private health care professionals in attendance were cautioned by Orenstein that
despite all the good news, they need to continue to worry. "Each day 11,000 children are
born in the United States and we start over again with them at zero shots. Not to mention that
approximately one million preschool children in the United States right at this minute are
missing one or more of the recommended vaccinations," he said.
During the national conference, nationally recognized vaccine and public health experts
will be conducting hundreds of workshops. One of this year's first workshops was on the highly
topical issue of vaccine safety. During the workshop, participants explored the question,
"How do we know vaccines are safe, and how can we share this information with concerned
CDC's Gina Terracciano, D.O., explained why issues of vaccine safety today are so important
for health care providers to address. "Research indicates that health care providers
remain the number one source parents turn to when faced with concerns about vaccinating their
children. It's imperative that, even in settings where time is in short supply, providers be
receptive to parents who have questions."
Terracciano explained that our very success with children's vaccines during the past 40
years has paradoxically proven to be one of our major liabilities in maintaining high levels
of immunization today. "In the 1950s, parents and grandparents were personally familiar
with the annual summer-to-autumn devastations of polio. Similarly, the vision of a child
choking and strangling from breathing obstruction caused by diphtheria was familiar to
Today's young parents have rarely, if ever, seen the toll of these diseases because of the
success of our vaccine programs. Even so, these disease-causing organisms have not
disappeared, but have only receded in the background, waiting for an opportunity to
Before a vaccine is licensed for use in the United States, it is tested first in the
laboratory, then in animals, and finally in phased clinical human trials to ensure the
vaccine's safety and effectiveness. Orenstein emphasized that while vaccines today are safe
and effective, CDC must be prepared to investigate any possibility of adverse events following
immunization. CDC must also determine and then warn people if, in fact, adverse events are
caused by a vaccine and, when they are not, to dispel concerns so that children can continue
to be protected through immunization.
Other topics that will be discussed at the conference include, what needs to be done to
prevent 20,000 elderly from dying each year because of complications from influenza and
pneumonia, what steps must be taken to complete the worldwide polio eradication effort, and
what new vaccines are on the horizon. The conference is being held at the Westin Hotel
Renaissance Center, downtown Detroit, and will continue through Thursday afternoon.
Parents and others with questions about immunization should call CDC's National Immunization Information Hotline at 1 800 232-2522 (English) or 1 800 232-0233 (Spanish) to talk to an information specialist or receive information materials.
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