After 16 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. linked to international travel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert on June 21, 2023, recommending that all eligible infants aged six months or older get an extra measles vaccine before traveling abroad this summer. Despite being licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use only in children 12 months of age and older, CDC officials say that under the “right circumstances,” such as traveling abroad this summer, children may be able to receive their first dose as early as six months of age.1
The health alert comes only a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed Priorix, a new live measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for use in babies 12 months and older. Priorix was registered in Germany in 1997 and has been available in Europe and other countries since then.2 Shortly after the FDA licensed Priorix, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted unanimously in favor of allowing Priorix to be among the MMR vaccine products recommended on the childhood immunization schedule.
For the past five decades, Merck’s MMR II vaccine, licensed in 1978, has been the sole source of MMR vaccine for infants and children in the U.S.3 Like Merck’s MMR II vaccine, Priorix is a live attenuated vaccine with a similar dosage, safety and ingredient profile.4
More Americans are Questioning Vaccinations
The COVID-19 pandemic halted many routine health care activities for people in the United States, including pediatric well-child visits, and doctors’ offices reported experiencing a significant drop in routine childhood vaccinations amid lockdowns and the adoption of virtual learning. COVID vaccine concerns and subsequent mandates for these experimental drugs prompted questioning and apprehension for many people concerning other vaccines.
In December 2022, more than one in three Americans voted against mandating the MMR vaccine in order for children to attend school, according to survey data published by the Kaiser Family Foundation. One month earlier, a joint report by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) said that 40 million children did not receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine in 2021. 1 5 6
Measles Outbreaks in Fully-Vaccinated Communities Not Uncommon
Similar to COVID, public health professionals have urged getting vaccinated as the best way to avoid contracting measles. Also similar to COVID, measles outbreaks have often occurred in highly-vaccinated communities.7 The outbreaks were linked to vaccine failure, also known as “breakthrough” infections.
One of the largest measles outbreaks in North America to date occurred in Quebec, Canada, where vaccine coverage exceeded 95 percent of children.8 Additionally, a New York measles outbreak in 2011 was linked to vaccinated individuals.9 Another outbreak in British Columbia was later tied to a vaccinated child and documented as the first known case of vaccine-induced measles, otherwise known as “atypical measles” which is listed on the manufacturer’s insert as a potential side effect.10 A study published in the 1990s, when vaccine uptake for measles was at its peak, attributed measles to a “disease of immunized persons” after evaluating 18 measles outbreaks in “very highly immunized school populations.”11
Downplayed Antidote Reduces Risk of Measles Mortality by 87 Percent in Babies
A growing body of evidence has found that vitamin A is not only a viable treatment for measles, but vitamin A deficiency can even be a cause of more serious measles infections and complications. Vitamin A plays a critical role in immune function, so vitamin A deficiency not only makes individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus, but also affects the severity, duration, and morbidity associated with the illness.
Vitamin A deficiency is a rarity in the U.S., making measles complications and deaths far more common in low-income countries. However, studies have shown that those hospitalized with measles in the U.S. are commonly vitamin A deficient.12
One study published in the journal Cochrane Evidence Synthesis and Methods— considered the gold standard in evidence-based medicine—found that vitamin A reduces the risk of death from measles by 87 percent for children under two years old.13
The WHO and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) published a joint statement recommending vitamin A be given to all children diagnosed with measles in communities that are deficient. The language was subsequently updated to include all children with measles, suggesting that vitamin A supplementation is a viable treatment even in countries where measles isn’t severe. Despite study findings and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the WHO, vitamin A use for measles management in the U.S. has been limited.12
Priorix Promises Revenue Growth for GSK
The latest push for measles vaccination comes on the heels of pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna, which made tens of billions of dollars in profits from vaccine and therapeutic drug sales during the COVID pandemic, reporting sharply falling sales in the first half of 2023.14
“We remain skeptical that COVID revenues will grow in 2024 and beyond,” JP Morgan analyst Chris Schott said in a research note, adding that vaccination rates may fall even further than the substantial decline seen with booster shots last year.14
The new Priorix, Priorix Tetra, and chickenpox vaccine Varilrix, however, brought in a whopping $326 million for GSK.15
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1 Cobern J. CDC says infants should get extra measles vaccine prior to traveling abroad as cases rise. ABC News June 22, 2023.
2 Precision Vaccinations. Priorix Vaccine. May 17, 2022.
3 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccine (PRIORIX): Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – United States, 2022. MMWR Nov. 18, 2022; 71(46): 1465-1470.
4 Press Release. CDC vaccine group OKs new MMR, PCV vaccines for children. American Academy of Pediatrics June 22, 2022
5 McPhillips D. More than a third of parents oppose vaccine requirements in schools, KFF survey finds. CNN 16, 2022.
6 Lunna L et al. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: December 2022. Kaiser Family Foundation Dec. 16, 2022.
7 Fisher BL. What Is Going On with Measles? The Science and Politics of Eradicating Measles. National Vaccine Information Center May 25, 2019.
8 De Serres G et al. “Largest measles epidemic in North America in a decade–Quebec, Canada, 2011: contribution of susceptibility, serendipity, and superspreading events.” The Journal of infectious diseases 2013; 207(6): 990-8.
9 Rose JB et al. Outbreak of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence of Immunity, New York City, 2011. Clinical Infectious Diseases May 2014; 58(9): 1205–1210.
10 Murti M, Krajden M, Petric M, Hiebert J, Hemming F, Hefford B, Bigham M, Van Buynder P. Case of vaccine-associated measles five weeks post-immunisation. Euro Surveill 2013; 18(49): 20649.
11 Poland GA, Jacobson RM. Failure to reach the goal of measles elimination. Apparent paradox of measles infections in immunized persons. Archives of Internal Medicine 1994; 154(16): 1815-20.
12 Stinchfield PA, Orenstein WA. Vitamin A for the Management of Measles in the United States. Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice July 2020; 28(4): 181-187.
13 Yang HM, Mao M, Wan C. Vitamin A for treating measles in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005; Issue 4.f
14 Erman M. Drug companies face COVID cliff in 2023 as sales set to plummet. Reuters Feb. 6, 2023.
15 Shabong Y. GSK measles vaccine gets U.S. FDA approval. Reuters June 6, 2022.