The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are is sounding the alarm on the global increase of measles cases, deaths, and outbreaks as vaccination rates struggle to recover from a crash during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between 2000 and 2019, the global estimate of the first dose of measles-containing vaccine rose from 72 percent to 86 percent. But amid the global health crisis in 2020, the vaccination rate fell to 83 percent, and then to 81 percent in 2021—the lowest since 2008.
According to a new joint report by the WHO and the CDC published this week, coverage of first-line influenza vaccines recovers slightly in 2022, rising to 83 percent. But of 194 WHO countries, only 65 (34 percent) have reached the target vaccination rate of 95 percent or above for the first measles vaccine. Further, two doses are required to stop the disease, and the estimated coverage rate for two doses is only 74 percent in 2022, up from 71 percent in 2021. Overall, the benefits in immunity is not enough to prevent a return from the highest. infectious and sometimes fatal.
While measles transmission declined during the pandemic’s emergency period—like many other viruses—it is now rebounding amid a low vaccination coverage. Between 2021 and 2022, measles cases are estimated to increase 18 percent, from 7,802,000 to 9,232,300. The number of countries experiencing severe or disruptive outbreaks jumped from 22 to 37 during that time, a 68 percent increase. And the estimated deaths rose 43 percent, from 95,000 to 136,200.
“The increase in measles cases and deaths is surprising but unfortunately not unexpected, given the decline in vaccination rates we’ve seen over the past few years,” John Vertefeuille, director of the CDC’s Global Immunization Division, said in a press statement. “Measles outbreaks anywhere are a threat to all countries and regions where people are under vaccination. Urgent, targeted efforts are necessary to prevent disease and death.”
Although the US is seeing declining vaccination rates due to skepticism and misinformation, the largest, most significant declines in vaccination coverage are in low-income countries, which have not shown recovery from the pandemic. . The 10 countries with the highest number of children missing their first dose of measles vaccine in 2022 are Nigeria (3 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (1.8 million), Ethiopia (1.7 million), India (1.1 million), Pakistan (1.1 million), Angola (0.8 million), Philippines (0.8 million), Indonesia (0.7 million), Brazil (0.5 million), and Madagascar (0.5 million). Together, children from these ten countries make up 55 percent of the nearly 22 million infants who missed their first measles dose last year.
“The lack of recovery in measles vaccination coverage in low-income countries following the pandemic is a wake-up call for action. Measles is called a misbehavior for good reason. It is a disease that will exist and attack the unprotected,” Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunity, Vaccines, and Biologicals, said in a press release.
WHO and CDC concluded their report with a call to action. “It is important that all countries and international partners work to accelerate the recovery of vaccination and surveillance programs towards the ultimate goal of regional measles elimination,” they wrote.