40 mn children missed measles vaccine in 2021; disease is now an imminent global threat, warn CDC and WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) and US Health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Wednesday that the world now faces an impending threat of measles spreading in numerous locations internationally due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing impact on vaccine coverage and impaired disease surveillance.

As per a joint report issued by the two organisations, a record 40 million children missed a vaccination dose for measles in the year 2021. It chalks this up to hurdles created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch | UNICEF warns against global measles outbreaks after cases surge across the globe

Talking to Reuters, Patrick O’Connor, World Health Organization’s measles lead said that while compared to previous years the number of measles cases has not gone up dramatically, the time to act is now.

“We are at a crossroads,” he remarked, adding that the next 12-24 months are going to be very challenging, as the world tries to mitigate the situation.

He said that even though there are growing immunity gaps, there have not yet been an overwhelming number of cases. As per him, this may be due to a combination of factors including the cyclical nature of the disease and lingering social isolation policies.

O’Connor warned that this could change quickly given the highly contagious nature of the illness.

He further noted that since the beginning of 2022, the number of “large disruptive outbreaks” had increased, climbing from 19 to over 30 by September. He added that he was especially concerned about certain regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses, although it is nearly fully preventable with immunisation. Nevertheless, to stop outbreaks among communities, there must be 95 per cent vaccination coverage.