The UK Has Finally Eliminated Measles

In a major health milestone, the UK has effectively eradicated measles as a public health concern — once again demonstrating the power of vaccinations.

The World Health Organization announced the good news after confirming that measles has not circulated in the UK for the past three years.

This milestone is vindication for those who advocated for the MMR vaccine, one of the most effective vaccine interventions in medical history. The vaccine, which combines protection from measles, mumps and rubella — German measles — in a single injection, is a vital part of child immunization strategy and has helped reduce yearly measles deaths to single digits.

However, during the 90s, the MMR vaccine was subject to a widespread smear campaign. Public distrust was further exacerbated by the now highly discredited Andrew Wakefield and his 1998 paper that drew links between MMR and both autism and a type of bowel disease.

After review by several independent bodies, that work was found to draw conclusions that are not supported by credible research. Additional studies have shown no link between MMR and autism, and no wider association exists between vaccinations and increased autism risk.

Nevertheless, the Wakefield scandal caused a noticeable dip in MMR vaccination rates as the general public, understandably, expressed concern.

As a result, health experts have hailed this moment as an overdue but welcome victory for child health.

Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at Public Health England, tells the BBC:

This is a huge achievement and a testament to all the hard work by our health professionals in the NHS to ensure that all children and adults are fully protected with two doses of the MMR vaccine. We need to ensure that this is sustained going forward by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine in children and by catching up older children and young adults who missed out.

What does “elimination” mean?

As with any formal classification, there are some important caveats to keep in mind.

When we discuss elimination in the sense of wiping out a disease from circulation, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be isolated cases of infection. The classification simply signifies that measles is no longer circulating in the general population in a way that constitutes an overt public health risk.

Indeed, the BBC notes that there were around 500 cases of measles officially recorded in 2016. Herd immunity can protect those isolated cases from becoming a national problem, and that’s why reaching elimination stage with over 90 percent vaccination rates is so important.

This highlights the other important aspect of this classification: Elimination does not mean that this trend can not be reversed.

If parents stop getting their children vaccinated, we could easily see a resurgence in measles — similar to that which has occurred in the US and other areas of Europe. In fact, anti-vaccination campaigns have manipulated perceptions of vaccine safety across the world.

With those facts in mind, the WHO’s announcement carries with it an extra cause for celebration. Now, 42 out of 53 countries within Europe’s bounds have now eliminated measles. This brings us within sight of achieving total elimination and consigning measles, as well as its disfiguring and deadly effects, to the past.

Photo Credit: Julien Harneis/Flickr

77 comments

KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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FOTEINI c
FOTEINI chormpou5 months ago

why took so long to do it? i wonder...

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson5 months ago

ty

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson5 months ago

ty

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Leanne K
Leanne K5 months ago

Never presume to know better than the people with actual experience and first hand knowledge - previous generations who couldnt get vaccinated quick enough - because they knew...

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