Measles Timeline - History of Measles and MMR Vaccination

Measles Basics

Doctor holding a phial of MMR vaccine and a 15 month old boy
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Most pediatricians who finished medical school and residency in the past ten to fifteen years likely didn't see a single case of measles during their training.

They were probably even taught that they might not ever see a case, just like new doctors might not ever see a case of polio, Hib epiglottis, congenital rubella syndrome, or other vaccine preventable diseases.

But of course measles cases are on the rise and it is becoming more likely that doctors will eventually see a patient with measles in their office.

Measles Timeline

With all of the current measles outbreaks, measles is obviously not just a disease of the past. That makes it important to learn about the history of measles so that we don't repeat past mistakes, like the low immunization rates that led to the large measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991.

Measles has likely been around since the 9th century. A more recent history of measles includes:

  • 1772 - over 900 children in Charleston, SC die in a measles outbreak
  • 1846 - Peter Panum publishes some of the research about measles epidemics
  • 1865 - 5,000 soldiers in the Civil War die from measles
  • 1918 - more than 2,000 soldiers in World War I die from measles
  • 1920 - 469,924 cases (7,575 deaths) in the United States
  • 1941 - 894,134 cases
  • 1954 - measles virus isolated by Thomas Peebles, MD
  • 1958 - first measles vaccine is tested
  • 1962 - 503,282 cases - 432 measles deaths
  • 1963 - first live measles vaccine licensed
  • 1968 - improved live measles vaccine licensed
  • 1969 - 25,826 cases - 41 measles deaths
  • 1970 - 47,351 cases - 89 measles deaths
  • 1971 - MMR vaccine introduced
  • 1978 - 26,871 cases - 11 measles deaths (measles targeted for eliminated in U.S. by 1982)
  • 1979 - 13,597 cases - 6 measles deaths - 30 SSPE deaths
  • 1983 - 1,497 cases
  • 1986 - 6,282 cases
  • 1989 - 18,193 cases (measles outbreaks tied to low vaccination rates)
  • 1990 - 27,786 cases (routine MMR booster added to immunization schedule)
  • 1991 - 9,643 cases - 123 measles deaths over previous three years
  • 1992 - 2,200 cases - 2 measles deaths
  • 1993 - 312 cases
  • 1994 - 963 cases (last record high number of measles cases)
  • 1995 - 281 cases - 2 measles deaths
  • 1996 - 508 cases - 1 measles death
  • 1997 - 138 cases - 2 measles deaths
  • 1998 - 100 cases - 225 SSPE deaths since 1979
  • 1999 - 100 cases - 2 measles deaths - 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2000 - 86 cases - 1 measles death - 5 SSPE deaths (endemic spread of measles eliminated in U.S.)
  • 2001 - 116 cases - 1 measles death - 2 SSPE deaths)
  • 2002 - 44 cases - 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2003 - 55 cases  - 1 measles death
  • 2004 - 37 cases - 1 SSPE death (record low number of measles cases)
  • 2005 - 66 cases - 1 measles death - 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2006 - 55 cases - 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2007 - 43 cases - 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2008 - 140 cases - 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2009 - 71 cases - 2 measles deaths - 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2010 - 63 cases - 2 measles deaths
  • 2011 - 220 cases - 4 SSPE deaths
  • 2012 - 55 cases - 2 measles deaths - 1 SSPE death
  • 2013 - 187 cases, including a large outbreak in New York City - 58 cases. - 1 SSPE death
  • 2014 -  667 cases (becoming the worst year for measles since 1994), including the largest single outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated - 377 cases in Ohio.
  • 2015 - got off to a strong start and ended with at least 189 cases in 24 states and a large outbreak at Disneyland - 1 death
  • 2016 - 49 cases so far

Other notable happenings in the measles and measles vaccination timeline, some of which help explain why we are still seeing so many cases of measles today, include:

  • 1998 - Wakefield study suggests relationship between MMR and autism
  • 2002 - Wakefield continues to publish article suggesting vaccines aren't safe, which get a lot of media coverage
  • 2006 - Jenny McCarthy begins promoting anti-vaccine beliefs - appears on Oprah
  • 2007 - Dr. Bob's Vaccine Book released

Even though the Wakefield study was eventually retracted and the results were even found to be faked, some parents still don't like the idea of giving the MMR vaccine to their children. Although overall immunization rates in the U.S. are high, there are pockets of low immunization rates in some communities and at some schools that keep outbreaks going.

The resurgence of measles in the UK led to increased vaccination rates, from a low of 81% from 2002 to 2004, back up to 89% by 2010. Hopefully, we won't have to see the high rates of measles seen in the UK and the rest of Europe before our own vaccination rates increase to the levels that will stop our own outbreaks.

Sources:

CDC. Notifiable Diseases and Mortality Tables. MMWR. 1982-2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015.

The Pink Book: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine Preventable Diseases. Updated 11th Edition, (May 2009)

Weisberg SS. Measles. Dis Mon.October 2007; 53(10); 471-477

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