September 27, 2023

Lara Adejoro 

The World Health Organisation and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say measles immunisation has dropped significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a record high of nearly 40 million children missing a vaccine dose in 2021.

The new WHO and CDC report reveals measles is an imminent threat worldwide.

In a press statement on Wednesday, the organisations said 25 million children missed their first dose and an additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose.

“In 2021, there were an estimated nine million cases and 128,000 deaths from measles worldwide. Twenty-two countries experienced large and disruptive outbreaks. 

“Declines in vaccine coverage, weakened measles surveillance, and continued interruptions and delays in immunisation activities due to COVID-19, as well as persistent large outbreaks in 2022, mean that measles is an imminent threat in every region of the world,” the statement read in part.

The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said, “The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunisation programmes were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles.

“Getting immunisation programmes back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”

The UN agency and the U.S CDC noted that the situation is grave as measles is one of the most contagious human viruses but is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. 

“Coverage of 95 per cent or greater of two doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed to create herd immunity in order to protect communities and achieve and maintain measles elimination. The world is well under that, with only 81 per cent of children receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and only 71 per cent of children receiving their second measles-containing vaccine dose. These are the lowest global coverage rates of the first dose of measles vaccination since 2008, although the coverage varies by country.

“Measles anywhere is a threat everywhere, as the virus can quickly spread to multiple communities and across international borders. No WHO region has achieved and sustained measles elimination. Since 2016, ten countries that had previously eliminated measles experienced outbreaks and reestablished transmission,” CDC said.

The CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said “The record number of children under-immunised and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunisation systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunisation programs, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under-vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.” 

The statement added that in 2021, nearly 61 million measles vaccine doses were postponed or missed due to COVID-19-related delays in immunization campaigns in 18 countries. 

“Delays increase the risk of measles outbreaks, so the time for public health officials to accelerate vaccination efforts and strengthen surveillance is now. CDC and WHO urge coordinated and collaborative action from all partners at global, regional, national, and local levels to prioritize efforts to find and immunize all unprotected children, including those who were missed during the last two years.”

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