healthHealth and Medicine

The Measles Vaccine Has Saved 20 Million Lives Since 2000


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Lifesaving stuff. panpilai piper/Shutterstock

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a timely reminder to us all as to why vaccinations are so vital. Since the turn of the millennium, 20.4 million lives have been saved thanks to the measles vaccine alone.

Back in the year 2000, just over half a million people died from measles, an easily preventable disease. In 2016, that number was cut down to 90,000 – a shockingly high number, but a massive improvement nevertheless. This is almost entirely down to a global eradication program spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), something the CDC was keen to point out.


Through a series of calculations and modeling exercises, the CDC have worked out that, in a world without an eradication program, the number of fatal measles cases would have been as high as 1.3 million back in the year 2000. In this alternate timeline, in 2016, there would have been 1.5 million deaths from the disease.

Fortunately, that’s not the world we live in. All the evidence shows that vaccine-preventable diseases are rapidly being pushed into extinction, including measles.

Just last year, the WHO, among others, declared that measles was officially eliminated from the Americas – the fifth vaccine-preventable disease in this regard after smallpox (1971), polio (1994), rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome (2015). Polio, in fact, is set to be globally eradicated by this year’s end, although technically the world must go three years without a single additional case for this to be officially confirmed.

Every year, 2 to 3 million lives are saved thanks to vaccines. Another estimate suggests that 122 million children’s lives have been saved since 1990. They’re nothing less than acts of scientific salvation.

Imagining a world without the global eradication program. CDC

Let’s not be complacent though. As the report notes, many of the disease elimination targets set by the WHO back in the year 2000 have not yet been met. Poor infrastructure, ineffective cooperation, and a lack of resources in many parts of the world have allowed measles to continue to thrive in certain parts of the world.

Worryingly, the poisonous idea that vaccines are dangerous, or that they can cause autism, has also returned with a vengeance.

Thanks to the concerted effort of anti-vaxxers, preventable diseases are making a global comeback, from Europe and Africa to – of course – the United States. Just last year, 1-in-10 children didn’t receive any vaccinations, partly thanks to their false narratives.

The willful spread of misinformation is threatening to derail the destruction of measles. Don’t let it. If you see someone making these claims, call them out on it – you may be helping to save a child’s life at the end of the day.


[H/T: American Council on Science and Health]


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