Measles Cases Surged World Wide In 2017, Report Says

Despite aggressive vaccination efforts, measles cases surged worldwide last year. You can "thank" that anti-vaccination movement.

Measles cases are surging, and it’s at least partly due to parents failing to vaccinate their children:

Reported cases of measles worldwide surged by nearly a third last year, partly because parents did not vaccinate their children, health organizations said Thursday.

The increase in measles, a highly contagious scourge that had been nearly eradicated in many parts of the world just a few years ago, was “deeply concerning,” the organizations said in a report on the fight to eradicate measles.

“Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under- or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, deputy director general for programs at the World Health Organization, said in announcing the findings.

Measles outbreaks affected nearly all regions, the report said, with the biggest surges in the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean region and Europe.

The findings reinforced similarly alarming results reported three months ago by the World Health Organization for Europe, which showed that measles had reached the highest levels in two decades across the Continent.

At least 95 percent of a population must have immunity to control the spread of measles, public health officials say. But in several European countries, the figure is 85 percent or less. Health officials have put the blame for the immunity problem partly on parental neglect and the mistaken belief that vaccines can cause autism and other afflictions.

The measles increase in Latin America was partly attributable to an economic calamity afflicting Venezuela, where many public health services have stopped or are mired in dysfunction.

The number of officially reported measles cases in 2017 totaled 173,330, the report said, 31 percent higher than levels in 2016. Still, the number of reported cases last year remained far below the 853,479 reported in 2000.

The disease can cause debilitating and sometimes fatal complications, severe diarrhea, dehydration, pneumonia and vision loss. Babies and young children with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.

This report about the reemergence of measles reemerging notwithstanding decades of an aggressive vaccination program throughout the world comes just a few months after it was reported that measles cases were raging in many parts of Europe where the disease had previously believed to have been nearly eradicated. It also raises the prospect that a more widespread reemergence of the disease here in the United States cannot easily be dismissed notwithstanding the fact that the disease was officially declared eradicated in the United States in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control. Indeed, there have already been signs that this could be happening already. In 2013, for example, it was reported that the number of measles cases in the United States had hit a 17-year high. A year later, the number of cases was continuing to rise, hitting a 20-year-high by the summer of 2014. Then, in the summer of 2015, the United States recorded its first death as a result of measles in more than a decade. The news has been equally grim in recent years, although the rate of increase in the number of Measles cases appears to have leveled off somewhat. Nonetheless, although we haven’t reached the level of problems that Europe is facing, it’s still the case that measles, as well as a number of other childhood illnesses that had become increasingly rare thanks to vaccination, such as rubella and Whopping Cough, have made a comeback.

One of the main reasons for this reemergence of a previously eradicated disease is, of course, fairly easy to deduce. During the same time period that public health officials have been justifiably trumpeting their success in the eradication or near-eradication of many childhood illnesses that used to strike millions of children and adults, we have also seen the rise of anti-vaccination movement built on pseudoscience, lies, celebrities, and the ease with which misinformation can be so easily spread on the Internet. Much of this movement was based on the since-debunked myth of a link beteeen childhood vaccination and autism. This claim traces its origins back to a paper that was published in 1998 in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. That report’s principal author, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine which is commonly given as part of the regular childhood vaccination schedule and is intended to vaccinate against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. While public health officials and experts, drug companies, and many epidemiologists pushed back on that report, for the better part of a decade it stood relatively strong as the definitive word on the issue and quite obviously helped to feed parent’s fears. Wakefield’s study led to anti-vaccination movements that were made popular by celebrities in the United States and elsewhere, as well as by medical cranks eager to hitch their stars to anything halfway credible. Slowly but surely, though, Wakefield’s study came to be questioned by the medical community as a whole and, in 2010, Lancet eventually formally withdrew the report. Roughly a year later, it was revealed that the original study that formed the basis for the report was fraudulent. Most importantly, in the entire 17 year period since Wakefield’s study, no other researcher has ever been able to duplicate his purported results or to find any statistically significant correlation between autism and childhood vaccinations. In 2015, a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association definitively found no evidence of a link between autism and childhood vaccination. Despite all of this, the anti-vaccination movement, like many other ideas that are spread on the Internet, continues to exist and it continues to have an impact on public health. Despite this, the damage was done.

The fact that the claims of a link between vaccination and autism had been debunked, though, has not prevented the myth from continuing to spread. In no small part, the continued spread of these dangerous lies can be laid at the feet of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, and more recently The Big Bang Theory’s Miyam Bialik and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. Even Donald Trump got into the act before becoming a candidate for President, using his Twitter account to spread the myths of the anti-vaccine movement. and it is apparently something he still believes. The platform that celebrity gives people like this, along with how easy it is to share “information” that isn’t necessarily true via Email, Twitter, Facebook and the light makes combating anti-vaccine propaganda difficult at times, especially when you run up against parents who truly seem to believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests by refusing to have them vaccinated.

While this anti-vaccination movement seems like something that would take hold among lower-income, less-educated people, the reality has been quite different. Public health authorities in some of the wealthiest and best-educated counties and cities in the United States have reported that vaccination rates in their jurisdictions are actually worse than in less-educated and poorer parts of the country. Additionally, the anti-vaccination crowd, which continues to exist notwithstanding the fact that it has been utterly repudiated by science, has also targeted immigrant groups in Minnesota and elsewhere in the country, bombarding them with anti-vaccination propaganda at a rate that is difficult for public officials to keep up with.

It’s in this context that this resurgence in measles cases is taking place. What is both remarkable and frustrating is the fact that so many people can be so ignorant in an age when our knowledge of science and medicine is so much more advanced than it was when vaccination first became widespread. Back then, people were grateful for something that could save their children from the scourge of deadly or debilitating diseases. Today, we actually have people rejecting vaccination based on something a brainless celebrity said. This is progress?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Guarneri says:

    I’ve had a few whopping coughs, but never whooping cough. But I digress

    Yes, it’s a shame that the pop science of the day can take hold of the masses. It can be dangerous. The cholesterol heart disease link is all but gone, leaving only unsaturated fats. If we could only do the same for the religion of MM global warming.

  2. Kathy says:

    Now the antivaxxers will layer on some conspiracy by Big Pharma, maliciously spreading a genetically engineered virus to trick people into vaccinating their children.

    I’m so glad I grew up during a less stupid era as regards vaccines.

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    The “R” in MMR stands for rubella (German Measles) which is devastating when it infects pregnant women and can cause birth defects in children born to women who had rubella as children.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Jenny McCarthy might be one of the most successful serial killers in American history.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Mr. Prosser: My mother was told it was her childhood infection with rubella which left her finding it very difficult to carry to term. Two stillbirths and one miscarriage. I was a premie born a month early, luckily after incubators were in common use.

  6. Teve says:

    @Kathy: if that was born today I wouldn’t get my vaccines. The only reason I got my vaccines is that my idiot parents didn’t have the kind of alternative bullshit media that they have now.

  7. Teve says:

    My idiot parents are literally afraid of the microwave. They’re beyond fox news. They’re like Alex Jones people.

    Of course they voted for Trump, because he’s a business genius who tells the truth.

  8. Kathy says:


    My parents were both superstitious and scientifically illiterate.

    This came to a head in the Great Solar Eclipse of 1991. My dad refused to even glance out of his office window during it, because he was convinced he’d go blind if he so as much glanced upwards. My mom stayed home from work that day (a hard thing for a workaholic to do), with curtains drawn. She also advised my sister in law, who was pregnant at the time, to do likewise.

  9. JDM says:

    My father, born in 1929, and was the last person to have polio, in Washington State, in 1956. He was afraid of needles. At the time, the polio vaccine consisted of two injections, He had the first, but not the second.

    He is an attorney, and he collapsed on the courthouse steps in 1956. He was taken to Harborview Hospital, in Seattle. As he describes it, they had to go into the storerooms and dust off the old polio medical equipment that he needed.

    He did not have medical insurance, and had a newborn infant at home, and so the March of Dimes paid for the majority of the expenses.

    He is still around at 89 years old. And because of vaccines, polio is no longer the scourge that is was in the 1950’s.

    Few people today know anybody who suffered from polio. The community memory of polio or whooping cough, because of past vaccinations, is gone from our memories, new generations don’t understand the impact that polio, or other viral maladies, had on our community.

    Regarding the anti vaccine activists, I’m reminded of the quote from George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @JDM: My father had polio when he was young, and ever after suffered a limp.

    I think we should set up a state, surround it with barbed wire, fill it with all the infectious diseases we have vaccines for, dump all the anti-vaxxers into it, and close it off. Let the stupid idiots learn the hard way.

  11. JDM says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I agree. But let us take it further. For all the opiate addicts, No crime or prison, just an endless supply of opiates, and no 911 or healthcare.They all just check into the Hotel California, “Where they can check out any time you like but you can never leave”.