Measles is one of the oldest infectious diseases. First documented by a Persian doctor in the 9th century, it is responsible for millions of deaths throughout history. In the 18th century, there was an initial scientific breakthrough. A Scottish physician named Francis Home demonstrated that the disease was caused by an infectious agent in patients’ blood .
By 1912, measles became a notifiable disease in the United States. Since then, around 6,000 measles-related deaths have been reported in the country each year. But, it was only in 1954 that the causative agent of the disease was first isolated by John F. Enders and Dr. Thomas C Peebles during a measles outbreak in Boston, USA. They successfully isolated the measles virus from the blood of a 13-year-old student while researching to develop a vaccine .
The measles vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1963. A few years later, in 1968, an improved version of the vaccine was developed by Maurice R. Hilleman and his colleagues . In 1971, Hilleman combined the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines into one vaccine — MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella). Since then, it has been administered as a single shot. In 2005, scientists added the varicella vaccine to the MMR combination, and it became known as the MMRV (Measles Mumps Rubella Varicella) vaccine . For his achievements, Hilleman is known by some as the ‘father of modern vaccines.’ He was also responsible for developing vaccines for hepatitis A and B, varicella, meningococcus, and pneumococcus.
In 2012, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO, issued an action plan to eradicate measles in four high-risk regions by 2015 through vaccination. According to the WHO, the vaccination program was highly successful and resulted in a 73% reduction in measles-related deaths by 2018. However, measles outbreaks continue to ravage specific regions of the world, even today .