More than 40 million children missed getting vaccinated against measles last year, prompting a significant setback in global efforts to eradicate the highly contagious disease worldwide, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint report Wednesday.
The WHO in its latest statement said, “There is now an imminent threat of measles spreading to different regions around the world,” as Covid-19 led to a steady decline in vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease.
Declines in vaccine coverage, weakened measles surveillance, as well as continued interruptions and delays in immunization due to the pandemic, have made measles an imminent threat to every region of the world. The situation is grave, the report said, as measles is one of the most contagious human viruses, though it is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. Coverage of 95 per cent or greater of two vaccine doses is needed to create herd immunity that will protect communities.
Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. Measles typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose (coryza), and red, watery eyes.
Tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth two to three days after symptoms begin, according to the US CDC. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.
In 2021, there were an estimated 9 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 immunization 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 report warned that measles anywhere is a threat everywhere, as the virus can quickly spread throughout communities and across borders. Furthermore, none of WHO’s six regions worldwide has achieved and sustained measles elimination.
COVID-19 restrictions have also disrupted immunization campaigns for polio, which causes irreversible paralysis. Polio has been eradicated all over the world except in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where immunization drives have seen access restrictions because of insecurity and limited public awareness.
In India, increased numbers of measles cases have been reported in various districts in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, and Maharashtra. The Centre has asked states to consider administering one additional dose of Measles and Rubella vaccines to all children, aged 9 months to 5 years in vulnerable areas.
CDC and WHO have urged 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.