Agencies report that measles vaccines are down and outbreaks are up.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have partnered together to issue a warning that amid the height of the pandemic in 2021 a record number of “40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose, 25 million children missed their first dose and an additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose.” Moreover, that same year, there were approximately “9 million cases and 128 000 deaths from measles worldwide.” The agencies warn that this is a major issue that leaves those unvaccinated at risk of developing the measles despite years of progress made towards eliminating its spread.
WHO and the CDC reported that 22 countries experienced large scale measles outbreaks among those unvaccinated or undervaccinated in 2021 and the issue has continued into 2022. The agencies state that the issue is worldwide and these outbreaks can occur anywhere. The pandemic has not only caused individuals to miss their vaccination appointments but there is currently a shortage in the vaccine supply with ongoing shipping issues. Measles is one of the most contagious viruses, and while it’s completely preventable with immunizations, it can spread like wildfire without this option available.
“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 immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”
“Coverage of 95% or greater of 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed to create herd immunity in order to protect communities and achieve and maintain measles elimination,” the agencies’ report indicates, continuing, “The world is well under that, with only 81% of children receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and only 71% 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…”
“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky. “Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization 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 CDC and WHO are urging leadership to collaborate and take action to “prioritize efforts to find and immunize all unprotected children,” targeting specifically those unvaccinated or undervaccinated. They are also recommending that countries invest in more robust surveillance systems to closely monitor the spread of the virus among the unvaccinated.
“Since 2001 the American Red Cross has mobilized volunteers in 47 countries around the world to reach vulnerable communities with lifesaving vaccines,” said Gail McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross. “The global COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced just how critical vaccines are to preventing the spread of deadly diseases. We and our partners in the global Red Cross Movement are committed to averting needless deaths. It is imperative we work together to close existing immunity gaps and ensure that no one suffers from vaccine preventable diseases.”
Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO, said, “The significant decline in measles coverage is alarming. Gavi is supporting lower-income countries to get routine immunization programs back on track, and continues to fund global outbreak response through the MR&I’s Outbreak Response Fund. As an Alliance we are also pushing further, with targeted efforts to reach zero dose children and communities that consistently miss out on immunization and other essential services. This is fundamental to reducing outbreaks and keeping health systems strong and resilient in the face of other threats.”