Due to pandemic-related disruptions, 25 million children missed their first dose of the measles vaccine last year while an additional 14.7 million did not get their second dose. This is leaving nearly 40 million children susceptible to measles, according to a joint report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday.
In 2021, there were an estimated nine million cases of measles and 128,000 deaths caused by the disease globally (in 2019, 869,770 cases were recorded). 22 countries experienced large and disruptive outbreaks which in some cases have continued into this year.
"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 children missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Measles anywhere is a threat everywhere
Vaccination coverage of at least 95% of two doses is required to reach herd immunity and protect communities against the disease. However, that is not the case anywhere as none of WHO's six worldwide regions have achieved and sustained the elimination of measles.
According to the report, only 81% of children are currently receiving their first vaccine dose and 71% get the second one.
The report warned that "measles anywhere is a threat everywhere" as the virus is incredibly contagious and spreads throughout communities and across borders with little difficulty. Therefore, the decline in vaccine coverage and continued interruptions towards immunisation have made measles an imminent threat globally.
However, the virus is entirely preventable through vaccination.
- Measles deaths increasing worldwide for the second year in a row
- Measles on the increase in Belgium and worldwide
"Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunisation programmes, 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," said Dr Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC Director.
The report urged for coordinated action by all partners at all levels to prioritise towards immunising all unprotected children. It also stated that public health officials must accelerate and strengthen vaccination efforts now.