The role of epidemiology in informing United States childhood immunization policy and practice

Ann Epidemiol. 2021 Oct;62:100-114. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2020.09.017. Epub 2020 Oct 14.


One of the ten greatest public health achievements is childhood vaccination because of its impact on controlling and eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). Evidence-based immunization policies and practices are responsible for this success and are supported by epidemiology that has generated scientific evidence for informing policy and practice. The purpose of this report is to highlight the role of epidemiology in the development of immunization policy and successful intervention in public health practice that has resulted in a measurable public health impact: the control and elimination of VPDs in the United States. Examples in which epidemiology informed immunization policy were collected from a literature review and consultation with experts who have been working in this field for the past 30 years. Epidemiologic examples (e.g., thimerosal-containing vaccines and the alleged association between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism) are presented to describe challenges that epidemiologists have addressed. Finally, we describe ongoing challenges to the nation's ability to sustain high vaccination coverage, particularly with concerns about vaccine safety and effectiveness, increasing use of religious and philosophical belief exemptions to vaccination, and vaccine hesitancy. Learning from past and current experiences may help epidemiologists anticipate and address current and future challenges to respond to emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, with new vaccines and enhance the public health impact of immunization programs for years to come.

Keywords: Children; Epidemiology; Health disparities; Health equity; Health policy; Immunization; Vaccination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Immunization
  • Immunization Programs
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine*
  • Policy
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vaccination


  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine