Vaccines Prevent Infectious Disease Outbreaks and Protect Communities (August 2019)


Infectious diseases disrupt the lives millions of Americans every year.  Fortunately, vaccines can prevent many of these diseases.  Nonetheless, because the U.S. vaccination rates are lower than they should be, unnecessary illness and even death occurs.

For example, the seasonal flu causes much preventable suffering.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found an estimated 80,000 people died—among them, 185 children—from seasonal flu in 2017–2018, nearly twice what is considered typical during an average flu year. In addition to the devastating health impacts, it is estimated that seasonal flu costs the nation approximately $87 billion in medical spending and lost work productivity annually.

The U.S. is currently in the midst of its worst measles outbreak in two decades, causing more than 1,000 cases.  With the measles outbreak still growing, it is important to highlight the life-saving impacts of vaccines for people of all ages and take actions to ensure that vaccine use remains a common practice.

Key Findings

  • Vaccines have helped save up to 3 million lives per year worldwide by preventing diseases such as hepatitis B, meningitis, measles and polio. Additionally, researchers say that every dollar spent on vaccination brings back return on investment in health, economic and societal benefits in 94 low to middle income countries.
  • The CDC estimates that vaccination of children born between 1994 and 2018 in the U.S. will prevent 419 million illnesses, help avoid 936,000 deaths, and save nearly $1.9 trillion in total societal costs.
  • In 2018, the CDC reported that the percentage of children under age 2 who had not received any recommended vaccinations quadrupled since 2001.
  • Adult vaccination rates remain far below targets in Healthy People 2020, including for hepatitis B, seasonal flu, pneumococcal, and shingles.
  • Seasonal flu vaccination rates for Americans ages 6 months and older dropped from 47 percent in the 2016-2017 season to 42 percent during the 2017-2018 season. The 2017– 2018 flu season in the United States was the deadliest in nearly 40 years—tragically underscoring the importance of annual vaccination.
  • The World Health Organization has named vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, as one of the top ten threats to global health.


  • Significantly increase support for the vaccine infrastructure, outbreak prevention and response. CDC’s immunization program supports state and local immunization programs to increase vaccine rates among uninsured and underinsured adults and children, respond to outbreaks, educate the public and target hard-to-reach populations, improve vaccine confidence, establish partnerships, and improve information systems. Funding has not kept up with needs as states have to spend immunization dollars to respond to outbreaks, increases in the numbers of those who lack health insurance and vaccines, such as HPV, that are underused. Congress should significantly increase funding for CDC’s immunization program.
  • Raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and improve vaccine acceptance. Government, healthcare providers, health systems and other trusted partners should use varied and targeted media channels to educate people about the importance, effectiveness, and safety of vaccinations. Congress should provide needed resources to the United States Department of Health and Human Services to study the causes for vaccine resistance and to educate clinical providers on methods for improving vaccine acceptance.
  • Minimize vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren and healthcare workers. States should enact policies that enable universal childhood vaccinations to ensure children, their classmates, educators and the general public are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. This includes eliminating non-medical exemptions and opposing legislation to expand exemptions. States should ensure medical vaccine exemptions are only given when appropriate and are not used as a de facto personal belief exemption in states where those exemptions have been eliminated. Healthcare personnel should also be required to receive all recommended vaccinations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in order to protect staff and patients, assure continuity of operations in the event of an outbreak and, achieve necessary healthcare infection control. Healthcare facilities should ensure access to vaccines for all staff and contractors and remove barriers for staff receiving vaccines.
  • Ensure first-dollar coverage for recommended vaccines under Medicaid, Medicare, and commercial insurance. Public and private payers should ensure that ACIP-recommended vaccines are fully covered, as cost-sharing can be a significant barrier to vaccination.
  • Increase the pool of providers who immunize. As new vaccines are approved, reaching target populations will be critical. States can expand certain health care providers’ roles and scopes of practice to increase the pool of professionals who give shots, such as pharmacists and paramedics.  All insurance plans should consider including pharmacies and other complementary providers as in-network and receive equal payment for vaccine administration services for their adult and pediatric populations.