Why CDC Is Involved with Global Measles & Rubella
Updated March 22, 2022
In 2019, measles claimed 207,500 lives, mostly children.
Measles and rubella (also known as “German measles”) are diseases that can lead to serious health complications, or even death. Measles infection can also lead to disabilities, long-term illness and put children at higher risk for other childhood killers – like pneumonia, diarrheal diseases and meningitis – because it destroys immunity to these sometimes-higher risk diseases.
Rubella, also known as “German Measles,” is generally a mild disease but can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their children. If infected with rubella in early pregnancy, women have a very high risk of giving birth to a child with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS).
CRS often results in multiple birth defects including as heart problems, deafness and blindness. More than 100,000 children are born with CRS each year. The lifelong complications and disabilities can have an immeasurable emotional, social and financial cost for families.
Measles and rubella are what’s known as “vaccine-preventable diseases” (VPD). This means that if vaccine is delivered on schedule and as recommended, it can keep people from catching and giving these diseases to others.
Every death or disability caused by measles and rubella infection is entirely preventable.
Monetary Cost: Measles and rubella cost families and countries millions annually (but are cheap to prevent).
Measles can lead to economic losses for families, as well as place a heavy burden on local and national health systems. For example, a household in Ethiopia can lose one month’s income to care for a child sick with measles.
Responding to measles outbreaks is resource intensive and can carry high costs for health systems, including in the United States. In a literature review that included 10 studies on measles outbreaks from 2001 to 2018 in the U.S.external icon, researchers estimated the cost per case to range from about $7,000 to $76,000 and the total cost per outbreak ranged between nearly $10,000 to $1 million. A recent study of a 72-case measles outbreak in the U.S.external icon estimated associated costs at $3.4 million.
Compared to these real monetary costs, preventing measles and rubella is a best buy for public health:
- Two recommended doses of measles and rubella vaccine cost less than $2 per child.
- Vaccinating against measles and rubella produces huge rewards; every $1 invested in the measles vaccine yields a $58 return!
In 2019, the United States reported the highest number of measles cases and outbreaks since measles was eliminated in 2000.
Our ability to prevent infectious diseases and quickly detect and contain outbreaks where they start is a pillar of U.S. national security. We know that diseases can quickly cross borders, from emerging viruses like COVID-19 to a well-known respiratory disease like measles. In 2019, the United States recorded the highest number of measles cases since 1992. Measles outbreaks in New York during 2018 and 2019 lasted close to 11 months and threatened U.S. measles elimination status. These outbreaks were linked to travel from Israel, Ukraine, and UK to the United States.
In 2019, the United States had 25 outbreaks of measles related to imported cases from other countries.
In total, there were 92 reported importations of measles in 2019 with 25 of those linked to outbreaks sparked in the U.S. While vaccination coverage rates for measles is high in the U.S., there are geographic pockets of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people. Measles is so contagious that it can quickly spread to these at-risk and more isolated populations. CDC and global immunization partners are united in their efforts to reach children with vaccines ahead of the possible easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions and increased population movement.
Currently, there are measles outbreaks in every region of the world, and the measles threat increases as immunity gaps grow due to COVID-19’s impacts on routine immunizations and planned vaccination campaigns worldwide. These measles outbreaks are not only a sign of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services may not be reaching populations most at-risk.
The best protection against measles, rubella and all vaccine-preventable diseases is to reach and vaccinate every child and at-risk group on time. CDC works globally to help strengthen immunization systems, prevent measles and rubella, mitigate and contain measles outbreaks at their source and protect Americans where they live, work, and play.
Measles and rubella vaccines are safe, cost-effective and improve the lives of children and communities worldwide, yet millions of children worldwide are still missing out on life-saving vaccines.
In 2020, over 22 million infants worldwide did not receive their first dose of the life-saving measles vaccine.
In 2020, 3 million more children missed out on their first dose of measles vaccines than in 2019. This is the largest increase in two decades and has created dangerous conditions for outbreaks to occur.
A CDC priority is to reduce the number of “zero dose” children who do not receive any protection from vaccine-preventable diseases starting at birth. This is particularly important for measles and rubella because these viruses can quickly spread to unvaccinated populations and lead to serious health outcomes, including death. The ability of countries to ensure children receive both recommended doses of measles vaccine is a key indicator of global progress toward measles elimination.
CDC works with partners worldwide to eliminate measles and rubella, protecting children from these deadly and disabling diseases. Learn more about what CDC is doing to achieve a world free from measles and rubella.