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Throughout the history of measles, the disease was an expected life event. References to measles can be found as far back as the 7th century A.D. The history of measles changed dramatically when the vaccine became available and the number of measles cases dropped by 99 percent.
References to measles can be found as far back as the 7th century A.D. In fact, measles was described by Rhazes (Persian philosopher and physician) in the 10th century A.D. as "more dreaded than smallpox." But all that changed in 1963, when the measles vaccine was first licensed in the United States.
Prior to 1963, almost everyone got measles; it was an expected life event. Each year in the United States, there were approximately three to four million cases, and an average of 450 deaths. Epidemic cycles occurred every two to three years. More than half the population had measles by the time they were six years old, and 90 percent had the disease by the time they were 15 years old. However, after the measles vaccine became available, the number of measles cases dropped by 99 percent, and the epidemic cycles diminished drastically.
Between 1985 and 1988, it was discovered that many measles cases had occurred in children who had been vaccinated with the measles vaccine. While there were far fewer measles cases among vaccinated children than among unvaccinated children, the children who received only one dose were not always protected from the disease. This led to the recommendation of a second dose for children between 5 and 19 years of age, to ensure protection for those who had not developed immunity from the first dose.