Characterizing the impact of spatial clustering of susceptibility for measles elimination

Shaun A. Truelove, Matthew Graham, William J. Moss, C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Matthew J. Ferrari, Justin Lessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Measles elimination efforts are primarily focused on achieving and maintaining national vaccination coverage goals, based on estimates of the critical vaccination threshold (V c ): the proportion of the population that must be immune to prevent sustained epidemics. Traditionally, V c estimates assume evenly mixing populations, an invalid assumption. If susceptible individuals preferentially contact one another, communities may remain vulnerable to epidemics even when vaccination coverage targets are met at the national level. Here we present a simple method to estimate V c and the effective reproductive number, R, while accounting for spatial clustering of susceptibility. For measles, assuming R 0 = 15 and 95% population immunity, adjustment for high clustering of susceptibility increases R from 0.75 to 1.29, V c from 93% to 96%, and outbreak probability after a single introduction from <1% to 23%. The impact of clustering remains minimal until vaccination coverage nears elimination levels. We illustrate our approach using Demographic and Health Survey data from Tanzania and show how non-vaccination clustering potentially contributed to continued endemic transmission of measles virus during the last two decades. Our approach demonstrates why high national vaccination coverage sometimes fails to achieve measles elimination, and that a shift from national to subnational focus is needed as countries approach elimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)732-741
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 29 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Molecular Medicine
  • General Veterinary


  • Clustering
  • Critical immunity threshold
  • Critical vaccination threshold
  • Disease transmission
  • Effective reproductive number
  • Heterogeneity
  • Measles
  • Outbreak risk
  • Stochastic individual-based model
  • Vaccination


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