50 years: measles vaccine protects multiple millions

In this age of next-generation smartphones and tablets, how many 50-year old inventions are still relevant? The measles vaccine was licensed half a century ago in the United States. Today it’s used in every single country of the world, and about 110 million babies receive their first dose by the time they turn one. Tens of millions more doses are delivered as a booster when a child is older, as well as during campaigns like those funded by the Measles & Rubella Partnership. The vaccine costs about 23 cents a dose. Combined with rubella vaccine, it’s about $1.00 to deliver to children in poorer countries.

That’s pretty great. But there’s more. The measles vaccine averted about 10 million deaths last decade. It gets better. As more countries introduce a second dose for older children, the measles vaccine will avert 13.4 million deaths this decade in the poorest countries of the world. A brand new mortality impact study, just published in a special Decade of Vaccines supplement of Vaccine, analyzes the mortality impact of vaccines in 73 GAVI-eligible countries. It shows that a first dose of measles vaccine has the highest per-person impact of all vaccines, and averts 16.5 deaths for every 1,000 people (HPV vaccine and hepatitis vaccine are 2nd and 3rd).

measles vaccine protects multiple millionsThe bad news is that about 20 million children are not being reached with measles – or any – vaccines. About 430 kids still die of measles every day. Big outbreaks, killing hundreds of children, are happening right now in Nigeria, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo where families lack access to the vaccine. The largest outbreaks in years are also happening in the United Kingdom where parents decided not to vaccinate their children, many based on incorrect information.

It’s now World Immunization Week, celebrated by countries around the world. In Abu Dhabi later this week, high-level immunization partners, Ministers and decision makers, vaccine manufacturers and civil society will gather for a Vaccine Summit, which will “endorse the critical role that vaccines and immunization play in saving lives and protecting children for a lifetime.” We’re glad the measles vaccine can contribute in such a substantial way to saving those lives and protecting those children.

“Happy 50th” measles vaccine. You’re a miracle worker.

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