AAP continues fight to rid world of measles, rubella
- Copyright © 2012 by the American Academy of Pediatrics
The world has come a long way in battling measles and rubella since vaccines against the diseases were invented in the 1960s. Still, pockets of measles exist, children are born with defects due to congenital rubella syndrome and waning vaccination rates threaten to thwart plans for global eradication of the diseases.
The Academy, International Pediatric Association (IPA) and Sabin Institute recently became partners in an initiative to reduce global measles mortality by 95% by 2015 compared with 2000 levels and eliminate measles and rubella in at least five of the six World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2020. The WHO recommended in 2011 that rubella be added to the massive global effort, which recently was renamed the Measles and Rubella (MR) Initiative.
“As countries are moving toward elimination of measles and rubella, we will need everybody to take a hand in this effort because governments won’t be able to do it by themselves,” said Andrea Gay, executive director of children’s health at the United Nations Foundation. Having the Academy as a partner helps raise the profile of the MR Initiative, she added.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization is supporting provision of combined vaccine to eligible countries. The cost amounts to 65 cents a dose.
“That doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money, but when you talk about hundreds or thousands or millions of children, it is significant especially in that the countries in which measles and congenital rubella are still problems are the resource poor countries,” said Samuel Katz, M.D., FAAP, measles vaccine co-inventor and researcher. He and Louis Z. Cooper, M.D., FAAP, have dedicated their careers to eliminating measles and rubella, respectively, for the past 50 years.
The world is “tantalizingly close” to global eradication of measles and rubella, according Dr. Cooper, who has studied rubella since the 1960s and tracked data on people born with congenital rubella syndrome. “We absolutely have the technical capacity to eradicate this disease.”
Global data from 2010 indicate that there was approximately 85% measles vaccine coverage. In 2011, the United States experienced 222 measles cases and 17 outbreaks (MMWR 2012;61(15);253-257OpenUrlPubMed). Measles outbreaks and deaths in wealthy areas of Europe have been cited as an “embarrassing problem” (Science 2012;336:406-407OpenUrl).
If not for high vaccination rates in the United States, measles deaths and birth defects due to congenital rubella syndrome would be making larger headlines here, said Dr. Cooper, a member of the IPA Technical Advisory Group on Immunizations and AAP past president (2001-’02). The robust U.S. vaccine program is the global exception rather than the rule.
The MR Initiative will go far, but sustained long-term support and buy-in from all countries is necessary. And while global child health funding is just pennies in the world’s budget, it often is at risk of being cut.
“We’ve got to finish the job,” Dr. Cooper said. “We have to make the case to the broad public and the political leaders of what an important contribution to economic and global security to find the few extra dollars that we’re missing.”
The Measles and Rubella Initiative, www.measlesinitiative.org.
The AAP Global Immunization webpage, www2.aap.org/immunization/about/globalpartnerships.html.