Published: 11th November 2021
Over 22 million infants missed their first dose of measles vaccines in 2020: WHO
The Director of WHO's Department of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals said that evidence suggests we are seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of measles outbreaks continues to grow
More than 22 million infants have missed their first dose of the measles vaccine in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- marking the largest increase in two decades and creating dangerous conditions suitable for sudden outbreaks to occur, according to a report released on November 11 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The estimated number of measles cases in 2020 was 7.5 million globally, with major outbreaks occurring in 26 countries. However, compared with 2019, the reported measles cases decreased by more than 80 per cent in 2020. This could also be attributed to a decrease in measles surveillance with the lowest number of specimens sent for laboratory testing in over a decade, the report said.
Poor measles monitoring, testing and reporting can jeopardise countries' ability to prevent outbreaks of this highly infectious disease. Kevin Cain, MD, CDC's Global Immunisation Director, in a statement said, "Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children."
Dr Kate O'Brien, Director of WHO's Department of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals, added, "While reported measles cases dropped in 2020, evidence suggests we are likely seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to grow around the world."
In 2020, the first-dose coverage fell, and only 70 per cent of children received their second dose measles vaccine, well below the 95 per cent coverage needed to protect communities from the spread of the measles virus.
Measles is one of the world's most contagious human viruses but it is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. In the last 20 years, the measles vaccine is estimated to have averted more than 30 million deaths globally.
Estimated deaths from measles dropped from around 1,070,000 in 2000 to 60,700 in 2020. Measles transmission within communities is not only a clear indicator of poor measles vaccination coverage, but it is also a known marker, or 'tracer,' that vital health services are not reaching populations most at risk.