Measles vaccination saved 17 million lives since 2000, but elimination goals ‘off track’ – UN

A young boy is administered measles and rubella vaccine at a health post in Gorkha District, Nepal. Photo: UNICEF/Kiran Panday

13 November 2015 – The number of measles-related deaths has decreased by 79 per cent since the beginning of the century, but the United Nations health agency is warning that 2015 global milestones and measles elimination goals are off track.

New data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Measles & Rubella Initiative, estimates that 17.1 million lives have been saved since 2000, largely due to increased vaccination coverage against this highly contagious viral disease. Measles vaccination has also reportedly played a key role in reducing child mortality and in progress towards Millennium Development Goal 4.

However, the new data published in this week’s edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” and WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Record, shows that overall progress towards increasing global immunization coverage has recently stagnated.

While coverage with the first dose of the measles vaccine increased globally from 72 per cent to 85 per cent between 2000 and 2010, it has remained unchanged over the past 4 years.

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

The health agency is warning that based on current trends of measles vaccination coverage and incidence, the 2015 global milestones and measles elimination goals set by its Member States will not be achieved on time.

WHO also stressed that although all countries include at least one dose of measles-containing vaccine in their routine vaccination schedule, only 122 – or 63 per cent – have met the target of at least 90 per cent of children vaccinated with a first dose. Additionally, only half of the world’s children are receiving the recommended second dose of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, WHO and its partners, such as the public-private partnership known as the GAVI Alliance, underlined that sustained efforts are needed to maintain the current level of control.

“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 Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI. “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.”

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN to begin polio and measles vaccinations as Ebola transmissions plummet in Liberia

Related Stories

In-depth Interviews