Merck has supplies in hand as measles cases spike to highest number in 25 years

Merck has increased production of its MM-II measles vaccine in the face of surging cases in the U.S. (Pixabay)

The U.S. is experiencing the greatest spike in measles cases in 25 years, but Merck, the sole producer of the measles vaccine for the U.S., says it has production in hand.

The increase in cases has reportedly come from unvaccinated travelers bringing the virus back from other countries, coupled with lower U.S. vaccination rates in the face of opposition from high-profile skeptics who have linked the shots to other conditions, but without any scientific proof.

“In response to the measles outbreak that has occurred this year, Merck has taken steps to increase U.S. supply of our MMR-II vaccine so availability of the vaccine is maintained,” the company said in an emailed statement today. The statement emphasized the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine has been scientifically affirmed over decades of use against the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease.

“We are always concerned when anyone becomes infected with a vaccine-preventable disease. … The current outbreak reinforces the importance of sustaining high enough coverage rates in communities to help prevent measles outbreaks.”

RELATED: In worrying trend, vaccination rates in U.S. children keep dropping: CDC reports

The CDC reports that in 2019 through April 26, 704 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states. It said this is largest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994. Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

Merck Chief Marketing Officer Mike Nally told Reuters in an interview that the company has upped production but that there has not been a big boost in orders in the U.S., even from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC provides vaccines through the government’s Vaccines for Children program.

Merck on Tuesday reported sales of its measles vaccines MMR-II and Proquad along with chickenpox vaccine Varivax were up about 30% to $496 million in the first quarter on increased demand in the U.S., but also in Europe and Latin America.

“As measles outbreaks have occurred in different parts of the world over the last few decades, we’ve always been able to surge capacity, and we feel confident about our ability to do so in the U.S,” Nally told the news service.