The Grapevine

Declining Measles Vaccination May Lead to ‘Alarming’ Global Outbreak, Study Warns

The U.S. government declared that the country was totally free from measles in 2000. At the time, hospitals did not see any transmission of the virus for more than 12 months. 

However, due to the declining measles vaccine coverage, the U.S. as well as other countries that reported eliminating the disease in the recent years are again experiencing measles outbreaks. If vaccination continues to drop, infectious diseases experts warn that the world may see the disease return “in full force.”

A new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine by experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Penn State University College of Medicine highlights the need for more efforts to promote vaccines to help end the outbreaks. 

Measles is known as an extremely contagious disease. It commonly affects children and causes fever, malaise, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, cough and a red, splotchy rash. 

If left untreated, measles infection can be severe for people with immune system deficiencies and other vulnerable populations, like young children. Complications can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness and even death. 

Previous measles outbreaks killed two to three million people annually across the world. To date, there are more than 100,000 deaths linked to the infection every year. 

Measles Vaccines And Fear

Despite being contagious and deadly, measles can be prevented. The available measles vaccine has been highly effective and safe. 

But some people have been avoiding vaccines, especially for children, due to widespread misinformation. In some cases, parents fear that being vaccinated could increase their child's risk of autism, a claim that has been debunked scientifically. 

If the vaccine coverage continue to fall across the globe, researchers warned that it will weaken the umbrella of protection provided by herd immunity, which may put unvaccinated young children and immunocompromised people at greater risk.

The future measles outbreak may then lead to “disastrous consequences.” The NIAID and Penn report cited one case where a single child with measles infected 23 other children at a pediatric oncology clinic, which had a fatality rate of 21 percent.

The authors called for collective action involving parents and healthcare practitioners to help eliminate the disease and avoid further risks.