Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Measles Killed More Than 140,000 People in 2018, Mostly Young Children, Despite a Safe Vaccine

Science
A child receives a measles vaccine. DFID - UK Department for International Development / CC BY 2.0

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed more than 140,000, according to new estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of the people who died were children under five years old.


The figures come as vaccination rates have stalled in the last ten years. WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 86 percent of children received the first dose of the measles vaccine in 2018 and fewer than 70 percent received the second dose, but WHO says a vaccination rate of 95 percent is necessary to protect communities from disease outbreaks.

"The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world's most vulnerable children," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said in a press release. "To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines — which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all."

In poorer countries, vaccination rates are low because of problems with or interruptions in health services, The Guardian explained. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), one of the five countries most affected by measles in 2018, conflict and an inadequate health care system have prevented children from receiving the vaccine. Measles has killed more than 4,500 people in the country this year, claiming a higher death toll than an Ebola outbreak.

Along with the DRC, the other most impacted countries were Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, which together saw almost half of the global measles cases this year.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not part of the WHO and CDC study, told CNN that measles is the first disease to return when vaccinations are interrupted because it is so contagious. He said measles could make a comeback anywhere because of war, political conflict, the climate crisis or anti-vaccination movements.

"So the fact that measles is now returning in some areas is an indication that our vaccine ecosystem is fragile and in some areas breaking down despite general gains," he said.

Worries about the safety of vaccines helped spark a deadly outbreak in Samoa after two children died from an incorrectly-mixed vaccine in 2018, according to The Guardian. Anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. then visited the island in June, apparently fanning the flames of fear. In the past weeks, 62 deaths and more than 4,200 cases have been reported on the island, according to CNN, and the government shut down its offices Thursday and Friday so public employees could focus on a mass vaccination campaign.

Anti-vaccination messages have also led to an increase in measles cases in wealthier countries. In 2018, the U.S. recorded its highest number of cases in 25 years, and the European countries of Albania, Czechia, Greece and the UK lost their measles elimination status.

WHO's immunization director Dr. Kate O'Brien told The Guardian that anti-vaccination messages were able to spread more easily now because of the internet.

"Anti-vaccine messages are not new," she said. "But what is new is the tools with which and the opportunity for these messages even from a small fringe group of people to disseminate very widely and to portray themselves as if they are accurate pieces of information, which they are not."

Measles is more contagious than either the flu or Ebola, according to Reuters. It can be fatal, or cause long-lasting complications like pneumonia, brain-damage, blindness or deafness. An October study found that it can also damage survivors' immune memory, making them more vulnerable to other infectious diseases.

The world has made progress in battling measles since 2000, when there were 28,219,100 cases and 535,600 deaths, according to the WHO. However, measles cases have begun to climb since 2016, increasing 167 percent worldwide in the last two years, CNN reported.

The trend does not look to be improving in 2019, according to WHO. As of November, there were three times the number of reported cases than had been documented by the same time last year.

"It is a tragedy that the world is seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths from a disease that is easily preventable with a vaccine," Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in the press release.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A view of a washed out road near Utuado, Puerto Rico, after a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew dropped relief supplies to residents Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The locals were stranded after Hurricane Maria by washed out roads and mudslides. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Coral Natalie Negrón Almodóvar

The Earth began to shake as Tamar Hernández drove to visit her mother in Yauco, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 28, 2019. She did not feel that first tremor — she felt only the ensuing aftershocks — but she worried because her mother had an ankle injury and could not walk. Then Hernández thought, "What if something worse is coming our way?"

Read More
Flooded battery park tunnel is seen after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. CC BY 2.0

President Trump has long touted the efficacy of walls, funneling billions of Defense Department dollars to build a wall on the southern border. However, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released a study that included plans for a sea wall to protect New Yorkers from sea-level rise and catastrophic storms like Hurricane Sandy, Trump mocked it as ineffective and unsightly.

Read More
Sponsored
A general view of fire damaged country in the The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area near the town of Blackheath on Feb. 21, 2020 in Blackheath, Australia. Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

In a post-mortem of the Australian bushfires, which raged for five months, scientists have concluded that their intensity and duration far surpassed what climate models had predicted, according to a study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

Read More
Sea level rise causes water to spill over from the Lafayette River onto Llewellyn Ave in Norfolk, Virginia just after high tide on Aug. 5, 2017. This road floods often, even when there is no rain. Skyler Ballard / Chesapeake Bay Program

By Tim Radford

The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

Read More
Malala Yousafzai (left) and Greta Thunberg (right) met in Oxford University Tuesday. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

What happens when a famous school striker meets a renowned campaigner for education rights?

Read More