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WHO/CDC Report on Global Measles Shows Toll of Vaccine Gaps

A new report documenting a steep climb in measles cases with severe outbreaks worldwide linked to vaccine coverage gaps indicates stalled momentum – not progress -- in efforts to control a preventable and deadly disease.

The report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, titled Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination – Worldwide, 2000-2017, counts 110,000 deaths during last year alone and documents lengthy outbreaks even in countries that had nearly eliminated the disease. The report presents an irrefutable case that, without greatly accelerated efforts to increase vaccination coverage, decades of progress are at risk.

While the report is alarming, it is also not surprising. As noted in the report, the last few years have seen global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine stalled at 85 percent, significantly short of the 95 percent needed to prevent outbreaks, while coverage with the required second dose of the vaccine remains at 67 percent.

While existing vaccines are among the most effective and essential tools developed to protect public health, their benefits remain unrealized. Vaccine hesitancy trends and policies, as well as public health infrastructure gaps, depress immunization rates in communities across this country and around the world. These failures leave those communities more vulnerable to measles and other vaccine preventable illnesses, and are all the more tragic because they could be averted.

The report adds impetus to IDSA recommendations for strong immunization requirements regarding all CDC-recommended vaccines, with exemptions provided only in cases of medical contraindication. In addition, the report starkly spells out the need for investments that ensure vaccine access in the U.S. and across the globe.  While the international partnership of the Global Health Security Agenda, with U.S. leadership, has nearly doubled measles vaccination coverage in targeted districts in Pakistan, much more work clearly remains. We continue to urge U.S. leadership and commitment to closing global gaps that allow nearly 20 million children to go unvaccinated each year. In this country intensive public education on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines remains a necessary component to ensuring broad uptake, while expanded access to healthcare coverage is pivotal to ensuring that children receive essential health services that include routine immunizations.

The WHO and CDC report underscores that all of these needs are immediate, and that efforts and investments to meet them are overdue.

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