A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 20.3 million lives were saved thanks to the measles vaccine from 2000 to 2015.

A nurse at Merawi health centre in northern Ethiopia prepares a measles vaccine for delivery. Image credits: Pete Lewis.

In case you’re wondering why we get mad when anti-vaxxers do their thing — this is why. Vaccines save lives, and when applied properly, they can save lives in the millions. Diseases such as measles used to be extremely dangerous but today, we’ve almost forgotten that it can be lethal. It’s an incredible achievement for public health, but the battle is still not won.

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Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Tens of thousands of children are killed by measles each year and the WHO says that since 2010, immunization trends are slowing down. Still, the WHO wants to eradicate the disease in the near future.

“Making measles history is not mission impossible,” said Robin Nandy, UNICEF Immunization Chief. “We have the tools and the knowledge to do it; what we lack is the political will to reach every single child, no matter how far. Without this commitment, children will continue to die from a disease that is easy and cheap to prevent.”

Another worrying trend is the slow emergence of outbreaks in the developed world. Despite being eliminated from the Americas, recent outbreaks in California and Germany have shown that the virus is just as contagious as ever, and millions of kids worldwide are missing out on their vaccines.

“It is not acceptable that millions of children miss their vaccines every year. We have a safe and highly effective vaccine to stop the spread of measles and save lives,” said Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “This year, the Region of the Americas was declared free of measles – proof that elimination is possible. Now, we must stop measles in the rest of the world. It starts with vaccination.”

Not all the WHO’s goals have been fulfilled, but the way to move forward is pretty clear: more of the same! More vaccination and more involvement from local leaders.

“The world has missed this target, but we can achieve measles elimination as we have seen in the Region of the Americas,” said Dr. Rebecca Martin, director of CDC’s Center for Global Health. “As the African adage goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and it takes the same local and global villages to protect children against measles. We can eliminate measles from countries and everyone needs to play a role.”