Millions of children remain susceptible to measles as vaccination rates drop, a new report suggests

Threat of outbreak of measles is growing due to a significant decline in vaccination rates among children worldwide, according to joint report published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

The spread of measles has remained relatively contained over the past few decades thanks to double-dose vaccination, which is 97% effective. Measles vaccination rates have declined steadily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said, with nearly 40 million children missing one or both doses in 2021, a record high, according to the CDC and WHO.

Because of the pandemic, 61 million doses of measles vaccine were delayed or missed in 18 countries in 2021, the report said.

“This decline is a significant setback to global progress in achieving and sustaining measles elimination and leaves millions of children susceptible to the infection,” the two agencies said in a press release.

According to the CDC and WHO, in 2021, there were approximately 9 million measles cases and 128,000 measles-related deaths worldwide. Twenty-two countries experienced “large and devastating outbreaks” — a trend that continued into 2022, the report said.

The report shows that, based on the latest data, only 81% of children worldwide receive the first dose, and only 71% receive the second dose. The CDC and WHO found this to be the “lowest global coverage rate” since 2008.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and used as part of the largest vaccination campaign in history, scheduled immunization programs were severely disrupted,” the WHO director-general said in a statement. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Both agencies are now advising officials around the world to restart their immunization systems to prevent more missed shots.

“Measles outbreaks illustrate deficiencies in immunization programs,” said CDC Director Dr. Rachelle P. Walensky. “Health officials can use outbreak responses to identify at-risk communities, understand the causes of undervaccination, and help provide local solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.”

The best way to contain the deadly virus is to invest all stakeholders in immunization surveillance systems, the report stressed.

Via Program of immunization until 2030 global strategy — which aims to make vaccines accessible to everyone around the world — WHO and the CDC hope that all children can be immunized and disease outbreaks can be quickly detected and responded to.

“We have a short window of opportunity to urgently make up for lost measles vaccination and protect every child,” said Ephrem Tekle Lemango, UNICEF’s head of immunization, in a statement. “The time has come for decisive action.”

Health officials in central Ohio said last week they were investigating a measles outbreak in several children’s institutions. 18 cases are under investigation, officials said at the time. All cases were in unvaccinated children, and 17 of the 18 infected children were under the age of five.

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