WHO Calls for Sustained Measles Vaccination

Measles vaccination saved millions of lives worldwide since 2000, but global progress recently stagnated, WHO reports

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) The World Health Organization (WHO) released some encouraging statistics on measles vaccination last week. But this news comes with a call to action.

The number of measles-related deaths has decreased 79 percent since the turn of the century — saving an estimated 17.1 million lives worldwide. And reaching this milestone was likely due in large part to recent efforts aimed at increasing measles vaccination coverage around the globe, WHO reports.

However, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO, overall progress has recently stagnated. While coverage with the first dose of the measles vaccine increased from 72 to 85 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2010, that rate remained unchanged through 2014. Based on current trends, WHO's 2015 goals will not be achieved on time.

While all countries currently include at least one dose of the measles vaccine in their routine vaccination schedule, only 63 percent met the target of vaccinating at least 90 percent of children with the first dose in 2014, WHO reports. And only 50 percent of children worldwide received the second dose.

"We cannot afford to drop our guard," said Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, MD, MPH, director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, in a press release. "If children miss routine vaccination and are not reached by national immunization campaigns, we will not close the immunization gap."

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is spread through the air via coughing and sneezing. Initial symptoms can include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. After several days, a whole-body rash develops.

Most people recover from measles within two to three weeks, but in some cases, the disease can cause serious complications — like blindness, brain inflammation, severe diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and even death — especially in malnourished children and those with weakened immune systems. There is currently no specific treatment available for measles.

Measles can be prevented with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. According to the CDC, one dose of the vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles. Two doses are about 97 percent effective. The CDC recommends children receive the first dose between ages 12 and 15 months and the second between ages 4 and 6.

These reports also looked at the progress made on measles vaccination as defined by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were established in 2000. MDG No. 4 called for a reduction in child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

While measles vaccination has played a key role in reducing child mortality worldwide and making progress toward this goal, WHO and its partners say much more work still needs to be done.

"Despite the welcome reduction in measles deaths, this highly infectious disease continues to take a terrible toll on the lives of children around the world," said Seth Berkley, MD, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in a press release. "A coordinated approach that puts stronger routine immunization at its core will be central to getting measles under control and securing further reductions in mortality from this vaccine-preventable disease."

This data was published in WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Report and in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
November 16, 2015
Last Updated:
November 20, 2015