In a year when measles outbreaks surged in the United States and elsewhere, the number of cases reported around the world in 2019 has surpassed 660,000, a three-fold increase over this time last year, according to data released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
In the U.S., there were 1,261 cases as of Nov. 7, a 240% increase over all of 2018, according to CDC figures. That is the highest number of measles cases in this country in 25 years.
The data included estimates that over 140,000 people worldwide died from measles in 2018. There were no measles deaths in the U.S., according to a CDC spokesperson. Global death figures for this year were not available.
“We’ve had a safe and effective measles vaccine for over 50 years,” said Robert Linkins, CDC branch chief for accelerated disease control and vaccine preventable disease surveillance. “These estimates remind us that every child everywhere needs and deserves this life-saving vaccine.”
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“When children go unvaccinated in significant numbers, entire communities are at risk,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director. That’s because babies and people with certain health conditions cannot be vaccinated, and must rely on the “herd immunity” that results when so many people are immunized that outbreaks don’t happen.
The largest measles outbreaks internationally have been in countries with weak immunization and health systems, according to the WHO.
However, in some nations, including the U.S., concern about the safety of vaccines, despite abundant scientific evidence that immunizations save lives, has resulted in some families refusing to get their children immunized. Pennsylvania and New Jersey have both seen increases in their vaccination exemption rates. A study released this summer by the New Jersey Hospital Association found that the number of Garden State children whose families claimed religious exemptions from vaccination jumped almost 53% in the last five years.
A measles epidemic in Samoa has taken the lives of 62 people, including 54 children ages 4 or younger. Cases have climbed to about 3,880 in the Pacific island nation of 195,000 people. The government told most public and private workers to stay home Thursday and Friday, and health teams were being dispatched to administer vaccines door to door, according to the Associated Press.