According to new research published by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide measles cases have spiked in 2017. Multiple countries have reported severe and protracted measles outbreaks over the past year. Because of large gaps in measles vaccine coverage across the world, there were an estimated 110,000 worldwide measles-related deaths in 2017.
Let me repeat that – 110,000 measles-related deaths in 2017. This is a disease that the anti-vaccine religion will claim over and over that it’s not a very dangerous disease. Even in the USA, where it is estimated that 1-2 children will die out of 1,000 infected by measles, it is still a dangerous disease. Of course, anti-vaxxers dismiss that risk of death as “low,” showing little empathy for children that die of measles every year.
There are other serious complications of measles:
- One out of every 1,000 measles cases will develop acute encephalitis, which often results in permanent brain damage.
- Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare, but fatal degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by behavioral and intellectual deterioration and seizures that generally develop 7 to 10 years after the measles infection. There is no treatment for SSPE.
Measles is not trivial. And the only way to prevent the highly contagious disease is with two doses of the measles vaccine.
The new report on measles and vaccine coverage
The CDC and WHO utilized updated disease modeling methodologies to provide us with the most comprehensive estimates of trends in measles infection rates since 2000. Here are some of the important data :
- The CDC estimated that over 21 million lives have been saved through measles vaccines over the past 17 years.
- Measles vaccine coverage worldwide has reached 85% globally. Unfortunately, that has flattened out since 2010, stubbornly remaining at 84-85% since then. This is far below the 95% measles vaccine coverage that helps maintain herd immunity against the disease.
- The number of measles cases reported worldwide decreased by 80% – from 853,479 in 2000 to 173,330 in 2017.
- Unfortunately, from 2016 to 2017, reported measles cases increased 31% worldwide. The largest increase in the number of measles cases was in the Americas (6,358% increase), the Eastern Mediterranean Region (481%), and Europe (458%). As I’ve written previously, a massive measles epidemic during 2018 in Europe has killed over 30 people.
According to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO,
The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination. Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.
Why measles vaccine coverage has stagnated?
I think we can look at three crucial issues that have contributed to this stagnation:
- Pockets of low measles vaccine coverage in Africa along with the collapse of the healthcare system in Venezuela.
- Complacency about measles epidemics in developed countries – the current generation of parents lack a cultural memory of massive infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics. They think that their superior genetics, organic blueberry kale shakes, and pseudoscience make vaccines unnecessary.
- The spread of false information about the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella) that it causes autism. It is definitely not linked to autism.
Whatever the reason, it’s not good.
The MMR vaccine is demonstrably safe – this is settled science. The MMR vaccine demonstrably prevents measles – two doses of the MMR vaccine is 97% effective in preventing measles infections.
Although the vast majority of parents in developed countries accept the settled science, and they make certain that their children receive the MMR vaccine (over 91% of American children have received the vaccine), large numbers of children remain at risk of contracting the disease.
I’m an old dinosaur. I remember infectious disease epidemics that ravaged my schools and communities. I remember kids who never returned to school because they died of measles and other infectious diseases. And I know how to read medical textbooks and histories from just 50 years ago – we should never go back to those days. If measles vaccine coverage falls, for whatever the reason, our children are at risk from a disease that should have been eliminated years ago.
Vaccines work. And vaccines are safe. Don’t listen to the lies of the anti-vaxxers.
- Dabbagh A, Laws RL, Steulet C, Dumolard L, Mulders MN, Kretsinger K, Alexander JP, Rota PA, Goodson JL. Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination – Worldwide, 2000-2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Nov 30;67(47):1323-1329. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6747a6. PubMed PMID: 30496160.
- The Lancet. The collapse of the Venezuelan health system. Lancet. 2018 Apr 7;391(10128):1331. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00277-4. PubMed PMID: 29636257.