An 84% decrease in global deaths caused by measles has been observed, with 550,000 recorded in 2000 and 90,000 in 2016, according to a press release issued by the CDC, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO.
This decrease may be partially due to the nearly 5.5 billion doses of measles-containing vaccines administered during mass vaccination campaigns and by immunization services. According to the release, these efforts have saved approximately 20.4 million lives.
“Saving an average of 1.3 million lives per year through measles vaccine is an incredible achievement and makes a world free of measles seem possible, even probable in our lifetime,” Robert Linkins, PhD, from the Measles and Rubella Initiative and branch chief of accelerated disease control and vaccine preventable diseases at the CDC, said in the press release.
Despite this drastic decline in measles-related mortality, vaccination coverage for the first dose of measles-containing vaccines has plateaued at 85%, a percentage that has not increased since 2009. To achieve elimination of infection, coverage needs to be maintained at 95%; however, only 64% had received the second dose in 2016.
The majority of the 20.8 million children who were not administered their first dose of measles-containing vaccine reside in six countries: Nigeria (3.3 million), India (2.9 million), Pakistan (2.0 million), Indonesia (1.2 million), Ethiopia (0.9 million and Democratic Republic of Congo (0.7 million). Outbreaks in these areas leave children vulnerable to contracting pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis, blindness and death.
“We have seen a substantial drop in measles deaths for more than 2 decades, but now we must strive to reach zero measles cases,” Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, MD, MPH, director of the department of immunization at WHO. said in the release. “Measles elimination will only be reached if measles vaccines reach every child, everywhere.”
The organizations speculate that because these areas have eradicated polio and routine vaccination efforts have stalled, including measles and rubella vaccination campaigns, these locations are at the greatest risk of diminishing progress made.
“This remarkable drop in measles deaths is the culmination of years of hard work by health workers, governments and development agencies to vaccinate millions of children in the world’s poorest countries,” Seth Berkley, MD, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in the release. “However, we cannot afford to be complacent. Too many children are still missing out on lifesaving vaccines. To reach these children and set ourselves on a realistic road to measles elimination, we need to dramatically improve routine immunization backed by strong health systems.”–by Katherine Bortz