Thankfully, tetanus occurs quite rarely in the United States, but it takes more than 100,000 lives each year throughout the world. Very few people in the United States have seen children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Even for many doctors, measles, whooping cough and tetanus are diseases learned about during medical school but fortunately not seen in U.S. medical practice.
As people in the United States become more hesitant to vaccinate their children because of fears about vaccine safety, the risk of these diseases reappearing rises. It becomes hard to remember why vaccinations are given when we don't see these diseases in our neighborhoods.
It would be a tragedy to have to have these diseases return to maintain interest in preventing them. Even the safest treatments have some element of risk. The key is giving people a complete picture of all the risks and benefits so that they can make informed health decisions.
In subsequent columns, I'll be talking about innovative programs around the world that are working to control diseases that we rarely see; diseases that shouldn't be.