I usually shy away from getting too personal in my work. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and as a new mom, I was thinking about things for which I’m particularly grateful. One of the first things that came to mind as a public health reporter? Vaccines. So, in that vein, let’s celebrate some new and promising numbers on the worldwide effort to eliminate measles.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on progress toward measles elimination since 2000. That’s the year the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals, which included a goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. Among the indicators of progress toward that goal was measles vaccination coverage. Then in 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global plan to eliminate measles in four World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2015.
According to the new CDC data, which was published in the Nov. 13 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, between 2000 and 2014, the measles vaccine prevented an estimated 17.1 million deaths. Also in that time period, annual reported measles incidence declined 73 percent worldwide, from 146 to 40 cases per million population, and annual estimated measles deaths declined 79 percent, from 546,800 to 114,900.
Between 2013 and 2014, incidence of measles declined in four of six WHO regions. In the African Region, cases decreased 57 percent, from 171,178 cases to about 74,000 cases, while in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, European Region and South-East Asian Region, reported measles cases also went down in 2014. However, increased case numbers were reported in the Region of the Americas in 2014, largely due to measles outbreaks in Brazil and the United States. Still, between 2000 and 2014, measles incidence in the Americas remained at less than five cases per million population.
When it comes to immunization coverage, the CDC data reports that from 2000 to 2010, coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine grew worldwide from 72 percent to 85 percent. It remained at 85 percent throughout 2014. The number of countries with first-dose coverage of 90 percent or more grew from 84 nations in 2000 to 131 in 2012, but declined to 122 in 2014. Among the more than 20 million babies who did not receive their first dose of measles immunization through routine vaccination services in 2014, more than half lived in just six countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. Also between 2000–2014, the number of countries providing a second dose of measles-containing vaccine through routine immunization services increased from 97 to 154. That means global coverage for the second measles vaccine dose went from 15 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2014.
The new data offer a lot to celebrate, but the study also noted that it’s no time to slow down measles elimination efforts: “Although measles vaccination has saved millions of lives since 2000, progress has slowed since 2010. Reaching measles control and elimination goals will require addressing policy and practice gaps that prevent reaching larger numbers of children with measles vaccination, increasing visibility of measles elimination efforts, and ensuring adequate resources for strengthening health systems.”
According to CDC, the U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014. In fact, that year marked the highest number of cases since 2000, when measles was announced as eliminated in the U.S. To read the new measles data in full, visit CDC.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.