FORBES | I last witnessed a measles outbreak in 2011. Thousands were sick with high fevers, dry cough, and a spreading rash. Three quarters of the ill were children under five years old, and the disease was spreading rapidly. Once the outbreak began, immunization response strategies could barely keep up. It took months before even the hospitalized pediatric patients were all vaccinated.
Back then I was in the Dadaab refugee camp, near the border of Kenya and Somalia. I’m horrified to think we are courting a similar outbreak in America.
In the United States, before 1963, there were 400,000 cases of measles per year. One thousand of those children developed measles encephalitis, a serious brain infection, and often subsequent permanent disability. An estimated 400-500 of those children died, and many who lived were plagued with permanent disabilities including deafness.
In 2000, the U.S. had no measles cases. One of the most infectious diseases was eradicated by one of the most effective vaccines we have. The measles vaccine, which is 95% effective after one dose, decreased incidence of the measles in this country by 99%. Thanks to vaccine science, we had achieved a monumental public health milestone.