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expert reaction to WHO report on global measles spikes and gaps in vaccination coverage

A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) looks at progress towards global measles control.


Prof Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said:

“In the last two decades it is estimated that 21.1 million deaths from measles have been prevented globally as a result of vaccination programmes.  However, measles is highly infectious and requires sustained very high levels of population immunity through vaccination to prevent outbreaks.  In some parts of the world the high vaccine uptake required has never been achieved for a variety of complex political, societal and cultural reasons, while in others where the disease became uncommon, such as the USA and parts of Europe, there has been a resurgence of cases in some areas with gaps in vaccination uptake.  In this digital age, in some countries myths and rumours which have incorrectly suggested the disease is not serious and the vaccine is not safe have spread rapidly and in an era of little disease, such myths may have taken hold and shaken the public’s confidence in vaccination.  The rapidity with which measles has re-emerged in some parts of the world is a sharp reminder of the value of vaccination programmes and the importance of continued close scrutiny of patterns of vaccine acceptance to enable rapid response to declining levels.

“In the UK, vaccine confidence is high and uptake of MMR among young children is over 90%.  However, there is no room for complacency as recent outbreaks of measles have occurred among older adolescents and young adults who were not immunised when they were young.  Fortunately, as it is never too late to have MMR vaccine, with two doses needed for best protection, we have the means to prevent further outbreaks readily available.”


Prof Geoffrey Smith FMedSci, Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow and Head, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, said:

“The news today from WHO that this year has seen a surge in measles cases globally is a cause of great concern.  It is also entirely preventable.  Since 1960 there has been a safe and effective measles vaccine that could eradicate measles globally if the vaccine was used fully, just as widespread vaccination eradicated smallpox in man and rinderpest in cattle.  The underutilisation of the vaccine seems in part from the erroneous claim that the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism – this claim has been refuted absolutely and has no credible basis.  Reluctance to use the vaccine also stems from declining concern about the disease, and from apathy.  We need to reverse this apathy and underutilisation of the vaccine.  Science has provided the tool to eradicate measles, we need to show the will to use it.”


‘Progress towards regional measles elimination – worldwide, 2000–2017’ by the World Health Organization was published in the Weekly epidemiological record at 18:00 UK time on Thursday 29 November 2018.


Declared interests

Prof Helen Bedford: “I have no conflicts of interest.”

Prof Geoffrey Smith: “I have no declarations of interest.”


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