Global Rise in Measles Cases and Deaths Sparks Concern from WHO and CDC
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are expressing growing alarm over the increasing number of measles cases, deaths, and outbreaks worldwide. Despite progress made in vaccination rates over the last two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted efforts to combat this highly contagious disease.
Between 2000 and 2019, global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine rose from 72 percent to 86 percent. However, vaccination rates plummeted during the pandemic, with 2020 seeing a decline to 83 percent and 2021 dropping even further to 81 percent – the lowest figure since 2008. While there was a slight recovery in 2022, with coverage reaching 83 percent, it is still far from the optimal target.
Shockingly, only 34 percent of the 194 countries under the WHO’s purview managed to achieve the target vaccination rate of 95 percent or above for the first dose of the measles vaccine. This is particularly concerning because two doses are necessary to fully protect individuals from the disease, and the coverage rate for the second dose stood at just 74 percent in 2022.
Lower vaccination coverage has led to a rebound in measles transmission. Between 2021 and 2022, estimated measles cases increased by 18 percent, and the number of countries experiencing large or disruptive outbreaks rose by a staggering 68 percent. Tragically, estimated deaths from measles also surged by 43 percent.
The most significant declines in vaccination coverage are being observed in low-income countries, which have yet to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. In 2022, the countries with the highest number of infants missing their first measles vaccine dose were Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Angola, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, and Madagascar.
The WHO and CDC have issued a joint call to urgently address these challenges. They highlight the need for targeted efforts to prevent measles disease and deaths, particularly in low-income countries struggling to recover from the pandemic’s impact. Accelerating the recovery of vaccination and surveillance programs is vital to achieving regional measles elimination.
The rise in measles cases and deaths is a stark reminder that we cannot overlook the importance of vaccinations. As the world grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to prioritize the prevention of other infectious diseases like measles through robust immunization efforts.
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