Combining serological and contact data to derive target immunity levels for achieving and maintaining measles elimination

Sebastian Funk*, Jennifer K. Knapp, Emmaculate Lebo, Susan E. Reef, Alya J. Dabbagh, Katrina Kretsinger, Mark Jit, William Edmunds, Peter M. Strebel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Vaccination has reduced the global incidence of measles to the lowest rates in history. However, local interruption of measles virus transmission requires sustained high levels of population immunity that can be challenging to achieve and maintain. The herd immunity threshold for measles is typically stipulated at 90-95%. This figure does not easily translate into age-specific immunity levels required to interrupt transmission. Previous estimates of such levels were based on speculative contact patterns based on historical data from high-income countries. The aim of this study was to determine age-specific immunity levels that would ensure elimination of measles when taking into account empirically observed contact patterns. Methods: We combined estimated immunity levels from serological data in 17 countries with studies of age-specific mixing patterns to derive contact-adjusted immunity levels. We then compared these to case data from the 10 years following the seroprevalence studies to establish a contact-adjusted immunity threshold for elimination. We lastly combined a range of hypothetical immunity profiles with contact data from a wide range of socioeconomic and demographic settings to determine whether they would be sufficient for elimination. Results: We found that contact-adjusted immunity levels were able to predict whether countries would experience outbreaks in the decade following the serological studies in about 70% of countries. The corresponding threshold level of contact-adjusted immunity was found to be 93%, corresponding to an average basic reproduction number of approximately 14. Testing different scenarios of immunity with this threshold level using contact studies from around the world, we found that 95% immunity would have to be achieved by the age of five and maintained across older age groups to guarantee elimination. This reflects a greater level of immunity required in 5-9-year-olds than established previously. Conclusions: The immunity levels we found necessary for measles elimination are higher than previous guidance. The importance of achieving high immunity levels in 5-9-year-olds presents both a challenge and an opportunity. While such high levels can be difficult to achieve, school entry provides an opportunity to ensure sufficient vaccination coverage. Combined with observations of contact patterns, further national and sub-national serological studies could serve to highlight key gaps in immunity that need to be filled in order to achieve national and regional measles elimination.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SF was supported by a Career Development Award in Biostatistics from the UK Medical Research Council (MR/K021680/1) and a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Science (210758/Z/18/Z).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Contacts
  • Elimination
  • Immunisation
  • Measles
  • Modelling
  • Social mixing
  • Threshold
  • Vaccination


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