A growing anti-vaccination movement, coupled with ongoing difficulties in reaching underserved populations, is taking a global toll on efforts to eradicate infectious diseases, new data from the Council on Foreign Relations suggests.
Polio, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough are all preventable with safe, low-cost vaccines. Yet the council’s Vaccine-Preventable Outbreaks Map shows hundreds of thousands of cases of those diseases worldwide from 2006 to the present day. (Click on "Map" in the upper lefthand corner.)
Each dot on the map represents at least one case of a vaccine-preventable disease, with larger dots representing hundreds or even thousands of cases. Cases of measles are shown with reddish brown dots, mumps with olive green dots, rubella with purple, polio with orange, whooping cough with lime green and everything else with yellow. Red triangles indicate attacks on vaccinators and other health care workers.
The Council on Foreign Relations pulled the data from reports by media, government and global health agencies.
As the map indicates, Africa has suffered hundreds of thousands of cases of measles in the past six years, mostly due to an insufficient supply of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and a lack of human and infrastructure resources. Another roughly 20,000 cases of measles have been reported in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In Pakistan, Taliban propaganda and violent attacks against health care workers have accompanied a nationwide resurgence of polio, according to Laurie Garrett, the Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for global health who produced the map. The dissemination of anti-immunization ideology by Pakistani-trained combatants in Syria and Iraq has also been linked to recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases across the Middle East.
While Africa experiences the largest share of preventable outbreaks, whooping cough and measles have also surged in wealthy nations like the United States and the United Kingdom, where growing numbers of parents refuse to vaccinate their children based on discredited theories linking vaccines to autism.
Within the United States, where access to childhood vaccines is almost universal, measles outbreaks in May 2014 reached a record high for the past two decades. A vast majority of those afflicted had not been vaccinated for religious, philosophical or personal reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17,325 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, were reported in the U.S. from Jan. 1 through Aug. 16 this year -- a 30 percent increase from the same time period last year.
A recent report by The Hollywood Reporter revealed the consequences of Los Angeles' plummeting vaccination rates: The city has seen more than 1,300 cases of whooping cough this year alone, and some of the hardest-hit areas are LA's most affluent neighborhoods. Lower vaccination rates have also been linked to recurring measles outbreaks in Great Britain, with more than 2,000 cases reported since 2013.
“One terrible truth stands out: Misinformation and rumors from just one persuasive voice, delivered effectively, can derail entire immunization campaigns and persuade millions of parents to shun vaccinations for their children,” Garrett wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week. “Every baby who has died of pertussis in California, been paralyzed by polio in Pakistan or suffered from measles in the United Kingdom represents a tragedy that might have been prevented.”