(WASHINGTON) -- In response to a rise in measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the Vaccine for Children Program in 1994. And now, 20 years later, the CDC says in a new report that the immunization program has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children born since then.
"Vaccination over the course of their lifetimes will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 730,000 early deaths," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said on Thursday.
The report comes as measles is once more on the rise in the U.S. -- in many cases because parents choose not to vaccinate their children.
"Sixty-eight percent had what we call personal belief exemptions or essentially opted out of being vaccinated," said Dr. Ann Schuchat, assistant surgeon general of the United States Public Health Service.
According to CDC officials, there are 129 measles cases in the U.S. as of April 18.
The virus -- which causes flu-like symptoms, a miserable rash and, in rare cases, death -- is very contagious and, therefore, can spread fast among people who aren't vaccinated.
"When vaccination rates go up we are all safer," said Frieden.
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