Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963.

So why do we still have measles?

Shouldn’t measles be on the list with all of the other eradicated diseases, like smallpox and, well smallpox…

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

Eradicating a disease is not as simple as developing a vaccine.

If it were, a lot of diseases would have been eradicated already.

Hopefully, we will add more to the list of eradicated diseases, but there are some that will never be eradicated. Tetanus, for example, is ubiquitous in soil, so would be nearly impossible to eradicate. Other diseases, like rabies and yellow fever, would be hard to eradicate because they can infect animals or insects.

What about measles?

Anti-vaccine folks do not understand herd immunity.

While there was never a goal to eradicate measles by 1967, we have missed several deadlines to get measles under better control.

What was the first deadline?

“Recent successes in interrupting indigenous transmission of measles virus in the Americas and in the United Kingdom prompted the World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and CDC to convene a meeting in July, 1996 to consider the feasibility of global measles eradication.”

Measles Eradication: Recommendations from a Meeting Cosponsored by the World HealthOrganization, the Pan American Health Organization, and CDC

Folks started talking about measles eradication in 1996.

Before that though, there had been a goal to eliminate measles in the United States.

“An effort is underway to eliminate indigenous measles from the United States; a target date of October 1, 1982 has been set.”

Although we missed that initial target date, we weren’t too far off.

“In 1978, the US Public Health Service initiated a Measles Elimination Program with the goal of eliminating measles from the United States by 1982. The goals of this program included (1) maintenance of high levels of immunity,(2) careful surveillance of disease, and (3) aggressive control of outbreaks. Unfortunately, the program failed, predominantly because of the failure to implement the recommended vaccination strategy and because of vaccine failure. An increase in measles cases was sustained from 1983 through 1991 and was particularly dramatic from 1989 through 1991.”

Poland et al on Failure to Reach the Goal of Measles Elimination

There is also the fact that measles is just so dang contagious!

Improving vaccination rates and a two-dose MMR schedule helped decrease measles rates even further and finally eliminate the endemic spread of measles in the United States in 2000.

What were some other deadlines and goals?

  • In 1989, the World Health Assembly resolved to reduce measles morbidity and mortality by 90% and 95%, respectively, by 1995, compared with disease burden during the prevaccine era.
  • In 1990, the World Summit for Children adopted a goal of vaccinating 90% of children against measles by 2000.
  • Regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the American Region (AMR) by 2000, the European Region (EUR) by 2007, and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) by 2010.
  • A regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the Western Pacific (WPR) by 2012.
  • In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan with the objective to eliminate measles in four World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2015 – the Region of the Americas, EUR, EMR, and WPR.
  • Countries in all six WHO regions have adopted goals for measles elimination by 2020.

Obviously, we haven’t hit all of the goals and deadlines on time.

What have we done?

We have tremendously reduced the number of children who get measles and who die with measles. For example, instead of meeting the 2010 goals of decreasing global measles mortality by 90% over 2000 levels, we have decreased it by 74%. The world has gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 million deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

There is still some work to be done though, especially with the uptick in cases and deaths in the last few years.

“Eradication of both measles and rubella is considered to be feasible, beneficial, and more cost-effective than high-level control.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review report: Background and summary

Work that we can still do if everyone makes the commitment to implement their elimination plans.

And folks vaccinate and protect their kids!

What’s the alternative?

To go back to when even more kids got sick and died with measles?

More on Eradicating Measles

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