Tonight, you can rest safe in the knowledge that neither you nor a loved will suffer death, severe scarring, or blindness as a result of the smallpox virus. And you can count polio, rubella, and tetanus as some of the other diseases eradicated or almost eradicated in the US and large parts of the world.
For all this, we can thank Edward Jenner – the inventor of the first successful vaccine.
But, at least in this regard, it looks like progress is stalling. According to the latest figures reported by World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles cases are spiking globally and, unlike Marlon Brando’s turn in The Godfather, this is not a comeback we want to see.
Falling vaccination rates are the reason given for the worrying rise in the number of cases reported in the last two years. The Western Pacific region is the only part of the world that appears to have bucked the trend and actually show a decline in incidents. Meanwhile, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Europe have seen the largest increases.
In total, the report finds global incidence of the disease has increased by more than 30 percent from 2016.
“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” Soumya Swaminathan, the deputy director general for Programmes at WHO, said in a statement. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”
Those tempted to skip vaccination day might want to remember that between 2000 and 2017, the number of measles cases dropped dramatically (by 83 percent), saving an estimated 21.1 million lives. In contrast, “gaps in vaccination coverage” has caused 110,000 (unnecessary) deaths and caused far more to have to experience an unpleasant and potentially debilitating illness, which can leave patients deaf or with an intellectual disability.
To achieve herd immunity, medical professionals recommend a vaccination coverage of 95 percent. If 95 percent of the population had their two doses of the safe and effective measles vaccine (or MMR), the remaining 5 percent who may not be suitable for the vaccination due to health reasons, such as a life-threatening allergy or weakened immune system, would also be protected from the disease. Of course, this 95 percent has to be consistent – it doesn’t work if 100 percent of people are vaccinated in one area and only 90 percent are vaccinated in another.
“Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement.
“Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunization coverage and strengthening health systems. Otherwise we will continue chasing one outbreak after another.”