Why CDC Is Involved with Global Measles

At a glance

Measles can cause serious illness and death — particularly among children under 5 years old. Measles vaccines can prevent infections and outbreaks, which can cross borders to anywhere in the world.

Preventing disease and death

A Yemeni couple hold their daughter.
A Yemeni family with their young daughter, who lost her twin sister to measles. ©UNICEF/U.S.CDC/UN0684493/Hayyan.

Measles can cause serious illness and death.‎

In 2022, measles claimed more than 136,000 lives, mostly children.

Children less than 5 years old are the most at risk for serious complications, including:

  • diarrhea
  • pneumonia
  • encephalitis (brain swelling) and brain damage
  • loss of hearing or sight
  • death

Malnourished children are especially at risk of severe complications and death. Measles can also damage the immune system, leaving children who survive at higher risk of disease and death from other infectious diseases.

Maximizing health benefits

Measles vaccines are best buys for public health, offering the highest return on investment among all vaccines.

In many countries, measles and rubella vaccines are provided using a combined vaccine. It is one of the most cost-effective vaccines available: 2 doses of this vaccine costs less than $2 per child.

Since 2000, measles vaccines have saved an estimated 57 million lives.

Protecting people everywhere

Measles anywhere is a threat everywhere. ‎

Because it is one of the most contagious diseases, measles can quickly spread through under-vaccinated communities and cross borders to anywhere in the world.

In 2022, an estimated 9 million people were infected with measles. Large outbreaks occurred in 37 countries across 4 regions.

In 2019, the United States had 25 outbreaks of measles related to unvaccinated people who became infected abroad and brought measles back to the United States. In countries where measles has been eliminated, cases and outbreaks can still occur when unvaccinated people travel to areas where measles occurs.

Keep Reading: How Measles Spreads

Ongoing challenge

In 2022, nearly 33 million children globally missed at least one lifesaving measles vaccine. With so many children missing vaccines, the threat of measles has continued to grow.

It is critical that children everywhere get 2 doses of the lifesaving measles vaccine. CDC works with countries and global partners to improve vaccination coverage globally.