On December 9, GSL Director Steven J. Hoffman was interviewed on CBC's The Current with Laura Lynch to discuss why the measles, a virus once largely eradicated in developed countries, has been making a comeback in recent years.
In his interview, Hoffman pointed to the fact that the measles vaccine is a safe and proven way to shield oneself from the disease. Half of all measles cases stem from five countries. The thing they all have in common is low vaccination rates. In order for a population to develop herd immunity, 95% of people need to be vaccinated. In places where large scale outbreaks have been happening, such as most recently Samoa, the coverage rate has been significantly lower than that.
According to Hoffman, cost and delivery are major challenges to achieve better immunization across the globe. Especially the latter can be difficult to figure out. Vaccines have to be kept cold, and certain areas in dire need of them are hard to reach. While mistrust of vaccines in developing countries exists, most people who don't have the vaccines in those parts of the world desperately want them. Vaccine hesitancy because of anti-vaccination campaigns is largely a problem in developed countries, and according to Steven J. Hoffman, a major factor why largely eradicated diseases like the measles are becoming a problem again.
Last year, four European countries including the United Kingdom lost their "measles elimination status", which according to the WHO signifies “the absence of endemic measles virus transmission in a defined geographical area (e.g. region or country) for at least 12 months in the presence of a surveillance system that has been verified to be performing well.” The United States meanwhile recorded the highest number of measles cases in over two decades, which resulted in the country almost losing their measles elimination status.
On a global scale, deaths from the measles virus have gone down by 75% in the last 20 years. While that is a positive development, more recent numbers give cause to worry. Compared to last year, there has been a 15% increase in deaths resulting from the disease, which according to Steven J. Hoffman is "a setback we haven't seen in a very long time [...] and has a lot of us worried."
To combat further outbreaks, the international community, argues Hoffman, has to continue to work together to increase vaccine coverage through frameworks such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Hoffman finished the interview by appealing to global solidarity in matters such as the measles:
"When it comes to infectious diseases we are all in it together [...] Viruses like the measles don't carry passports, and as a result, if we are serious about protecting people in Canada and other countries, we have to protect people around the world at the same time."
You can listen to the entire segment titled "Measles outbreak in Samoa" here. Steven J. Hoffman's contribution is between 04:15 - 12:41.