Measles: Outbreaks Up, Vaccinations Down

Measles is on the rise in many regions, including Europe. Vaccines were effective in decreasing prevalence but in recent years gained have stalled due to misconceptions. Vaccination rates vary by region but are not sufficient for herd immunity in many areas.

January 09, 2020

Measles is on the rise in many regions, including Europe.

Vaccines were effective in decreasing prevalence but in recent years gained have stalled due to misconceptions

Measles global annual reported cases and MCV1 coverage, 1980-2017 
Figure 1: Measles global annual reported cases and MCV1 coverage, 1980-2017
Number of countries having introduced 2nd dose of measles containing vaccine (MCV2) and global MCV2 coverage, 2000-2017 
Figure 2: Number of countries having introduced 2nd dose of measles containing vaccine (MCV2) and global MCV2 coverage, 2000-2017

Source: World Health Organization

Vaccination rates vary by region but are not sufficient for herd immunity in many areas

Percentage of measles immunization among 1-year-olds worldwide in 2017, by region 
Figure 3: Percentage of measles immunization among 1-year-olds worldwide in 2017, by region

Source: Statista and the World Health Organization

Measles vaccination rates aren't cutting it 
Figure 4: Measles vaccination rates aren't cutting it

Source: Popular Science

Health Complications of Measles

Measles is highly contagious. The virus remains active in the air and on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours. First signs include fever, runny nose, cough, and watery eyes. After several days, a rash erupts, and then spreads.

Serious complications are most common in children under the age of 5 or adults over the age of 30. These include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

“Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures.” (World Health Organization)

If 10 people without immunity walked into a room with someone with measles, nine would become infected


Alan Melnick, Clark County, Washington (U.S.) Public Health Director

Prevention and Treatment

The measles vaccine is safe and effective. It costs approximately $1 (U.S.) to vaccinate a child. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended. Over 1/3 of the infants not vaccinated against measles in 2017 were concentrated in 3 countries: India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Severe complications can generally be avoided through supportive care: good nutrition, fluids, and oral rehydration solution. Antibiotics are advised to treat pneumonia and eye/ear infections. All children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of Vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. Vitamin A has been shown to reduce the risk of death by 50% and can prevent eye damage and blindness.

Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with high case and death rates, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.


The World Health Organization

Why Should Companies Care About Measles?

Up to 40% of people with measles will get complications. Even in uncomplicated cases, people generally don’t feel completely back to normal for 2-3 weeks—a lot of time to be away from work either as an ill person or as a caregiver.

Measles is extremely contagious and can be transmitted up to 4 days before a person has a rash, so it can spread quickly around a workplace if there are many unvaccinated employees. This is a bigger risk in countries where vaccination rates are particularly low, or in clusters where they are waning.

Employers can play an important role in keeping the communities where they work and live healthy by correcting misconceptions about vaccines.3

What Employers Can Do

  • Educate employees and families on the importance and safety profile of vaccinations as well as the risks related to measles
  • Provide on-site vaccine programs for employees and dependents
  • Ensure that vaccines are covered by either private health plans or the national/state health care system
  • Include vaccine education and reminders in maternal and child health programs
  • Make sure globally mobile employees have all necessary vaccines before traveling

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Vaccine Usage has Declined
  2. Vaccine Rates are Not Currently Sufficient for Herd Immunity
  3. Health Complications of Measles
  4. Prevention and Treatment
  5. Why Should Companies Care About Measles?
  6. What Employers Can Do