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ARTICLE |

Failure to Reach the Goal of Measles Elimination:  Apparent Paradox of Measles Infections in Immunized Persons

Gregory A. Poland, MD; Robert M. Jacobson, MD
Arch Intern Med. 1994;154(16):1815-1820. doi:10.1001/archinte.1994.00420160048006.
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Background:  Measles is the most transmissible disease known to man. During the 1980s, the number of measles cases in the United States rose dramatically. Surprisingly, 20% to 40% of these cases occurred in persons who had been appropriately immunized against measles. In response, the United States adopted a two--dose universal measles immunization program. We critically examine the effect of vaccine failure in measles occurring in immunized persons.

Methods:  We performed a computerized bibliographic literature search (National Library of Medicine) for all English-language articles dealing with measles outbreaks. We limited our search to reports of US and Canadian school-based outbreaks of measles, and we spoke with experts to get estimates of vaccine failure rates. In addition, we devised a hypothetical model of a school where measles immunization rates could be varied, vaccine failure rates could be calculated, and the percentage of measles cases occurring in immunized students could be determined.

Results:  We found 18 reports of measles outbreaks in very highly immunized school populations where 71% to 99.8% of students were immunized against measles. Despite these high rates of immunization, 30% to 100% (mean, 77%) of all measles cases in these outbreaks occurred in previously immunized students. In our hypothetical school model, after more than 95% of schoolchildren are immunized against measles, the majority of measles cases occur in appropriately immunized children.

Conclusions:  The apparent paradox is that as measles immunization rates rise to high levels in a population, measles becomes a disease of immunized persons. Because of the failure rate of the vaccine and the unique transmissibility of the measles virus, the currently available measles vaccine, used in a single-dose strategy, is unlikely to completely eliminate measles. The longterm success of a two-dose strategy to eliminate measles remains to be determined.(Arch Intern Med. 1994;154:1815-1820)

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