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History of Vaccines Blog


July 11, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

This year’s measles outbreaks in Europe have led to 35 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases. Thirty-one of the measles deaths have occurred in Romania, where years of declining measles-containing vaccine (MCV) coverage is taking its toll. For 2015, the World Health Organization estimates two-dose MCV coverages at 88% of Romanian children, down from a high of 97% coverage in 2003. Measles remains endemic in 14 European countries. In most countries experiencing outbreaks this year, measles immunization rates are much lower than the 95% coverage needed to support herd immunity.Italy alone has recorded 3,300 confirmed cases of measles and one death this year to date – the last time the US, obviously a much larger country, recorded more cases was in 1991, the year of a major epidemic.

Posted in: Measles, Public Health

October 12, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Frequent visitors to this site will probably be acquainted with the name Maurice Hilleman and the man's work. During a long career with the U.S. Army, Squibb, and Merck, Hilleman developed dozens of vaccines and made important innovations in vaccinology. Before Hilleman died in 2005, Paul A. Offit, MD, himself developer of a widely used rotavirus vaccine, filmed a series of interviews with Hilleman and other scientists. Now Dr. Offit has produced and released a documentary using the footage, and we are proud to host a screening of it. It's an excellent film, with fascinating historical footage, animations, and insights into the world of infectious diseases prevention. Please join us for the screening -- we think you'll really enjoy the film.

Posted in: General, Measles

September 30, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

The World Health Organization Region of the Americas has achieved a milestone in disease elimination – the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on September 27, 2016, declared the Americas to be free of endemic measles. In the pre-vaccine era, the WHO estimates that measles killed 2.6 million children per year globally, and so measles elimination has done a great deal to combat a major threat to child health. The Region of the Americas is the first of the six WHO regions to eliminate transmission of measles. The United States was certified measles-free in 2000, and the last cases of endemic measles were reported in other countries of the region in 2002. The International Expert Committee for Documenting and Verifying Measles, Rubella, and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas was responsible for collecting reports from region countries to certify that measles has in fact been eliminated. Polio (certification in 1994), rubella (2015) and smallpox (1971) have been eliminated from the region as well, and, of course, smallpox has been eradicated globally (certification in 1980).

Posted in: Measles, Public Health

February 6, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

I’ve been getting calls from reporters and producers in record numbers in the past weeks as US measles cases have been increasing. I’ve talked to people from Bloomberg Politics, the San Jose Mercury News, CNN, the Baltimore Sun, Men’s Health, Chicago public radio station WBEZ, CBS Interactive, Canadian radio show Day 6, Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio, and a local Philadelphia TV station. The one interaction I’ve had that distressed me was with a local TV station. They asked me to appear on a news magazine segment to talk about measles history and the history of the anti-vaccination movement. A few other segments would air on the same show, one about health insurance enrollment and one about, of all things, sport betting.

Posted in: Measles, Public Health

January 27, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

I've been closely following, as I'm sure most of you have, the recent outbreaks of measles originating from exposures at Disneyland. I wrote about this the other day (and included some information about a lesser-known measles outbreak in a small South Dakota town). Since then, reported cases of measles have climbed. As of the writing of this post, 88 measles cases have been reported and linked directly or indirectly to the initial exposures at Disneyland. It's too soon to know the vaccination history of every person who has developed measles, but usually what we see in measles outbreaks is that the great majority of cases are completely unvaccinated. A smaller number will have had one vaccine (not the recommended two), and an even smaller number will have been fully vaccinated. This is no surprise: the measles vaccine is highly effective at preventing disease, but 2-5% of individuals vaccinated once do not respond to the vaccine. So, some vaccinated individuals will remain unprotected.

Posted in: Measles

January 14, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

The CDC just announced its final 2014 measles case numbers. They have reported 644 cases for 2014, the highest number of measles cases in any year since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. The graph below shows measles cases since 2001 up to November 29, 2014. December ended with a bang: between December 15 and December 20, visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, were exposed to measles courtesy of an as-yet-unidentified index case. Related measles cases have been reported in California (22 so far), Utah (2), Washington (1) and Colorado (1). From November 29 to December 31, a total of 31 measles cases were reported across the country.

Posted in: Measles

August 14, 2012  Project Director

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) recently released the minutes from its latest meeting held in January. At that meeting, the committee discussed findings by its subcommittee on adolescent vaccinations regarding mumps in the United Kingdom, among other topics. The minutes record that the “sub-committee noted that a number of significant outbreaks of mumps had been seen in the UK over the last decade. Cases had been mainly limited to unimmunised and partially immunised individuals, however more recently a significant portion of infections were being confirmed in those who had received two MMR doses. However, generally mumps disease is less severe in immunised individuals.”

Posted in: Measles, Public Health

June 7, 2011

It would be difficult not to notice the many reports of measles occurring in the United States this year. Between January 1 and May 20, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of 118 cases of measles. Most of the cases (89%) were associated with importation of the infection from outside the United States.

We have to look back to 1996, before the elimination of measles in the United States, to find more measles cases in the same number of weeks. That year, the CDC recorded a total of 508 cases. The median number of U.S. measles cases in each of the past 10 years has been 56, so this year’s figures are already markedly higher.

The measles virus is extremely contagious: on average, 90% of those exposed to someone with the measles will get the disease themselves unless they’ve been vaccinated, or have had measles before. Combine that with international travel at unprecedented levels, measles outbreaks occurring all over the world, and pockets of unvaccinated individuals in the United States, and it’s not surprising that we’ve seen so many U.S. cases this year.

Posted in: Measles

April 29, 2011

National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog features posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Rubeola, or measles (as it's more commonly known) is an extremely contagious viral disease. It causes a distinctive rash, fever that can reach 104°F or higher, runny nose, and cough, and has many potential complications including ear infection (in about 10% of cases) and pneumonia (about 5% of cases). In about one in a thousand cases, the patient develops encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. About one out of every thousand patients will die.

The rubeola virus spreads easily and rapidly via coughs and sneezes, and remains active and infectious in the air for up to two hours. As a result, a person can become infected just by breathing the air in a room that was occupied by a measles patient as much as two hours earlier. There is no treatment for the disease, although supportive care may be provided, and efforts may be made to lower the patient's fever.

Posted in: General, Measles, Public Health

January 6, 2011

A January 5, 2011 report in the BMJ investigates the 1998 paper that first alleged a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The author, Brian Deer, presents evidence that the paper resulted from research fraud. The History of Vaccines blog looks at the history of the paper and how it has profoundly affected research, public health, and the public perception of vaccines over the last 12 years.

In the wake of a paper published in the Lancet in 1998, vaccination rates in Britain plummeted. The lead author of the paper, Andrew Wakefield, rose to infamy as a result of his claims that the combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine had caused autism in the 12 children in the study, and frightened parents began to delay or completely refuse vaccination for their children, both in Britain and the United States. Since then, outbreaks of previously eliminated diseases have sickened and killed children in both countries.

Posted in: General, Measles, Public Health, Vaccine Research