Experts Raise Concerns About Measles Vaccination Rates During COVID-19

November 24, 2020
Christine Blank

In the wake of a resurgence of measles cases and deaths globally, experts are worried about the decline in vaccinations during the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about new data showing a resurgence in measles cases and deaths in 2019 — and the effect of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on measles vaccinations rates. In addition, officials are worried that the decline in measles vaccinations will continue due to COVID-19 disruptions globally.

Measles cases worldwide reached their highest number — 869,770 — in 23 years in 2019, according to a report published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.1

Plus, estimated global measles mortality soared nearly 50% since 2016, reaching 207,500 in 2019.

Comparing 2019 data with the historic low in reported measles cases in 2016, the authors cited a failure to vaccinate children on time with 3 doses of measles-containing vaccines (MCV1 and MCV2) as the main driver of these increases in cases and deaths. They noted that the global increase in cases in 2019 was driven by large outbreaks in several countries.

“These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a news release.2

Although reported cases of measles are lower in 2020, necessary efforts to control COVID-19 have resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimize measles outbreaks, WHO said. More than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries as of November, according to the organization.

“Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF. “While health systems are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another.”

COVID-19 has resulted in “dangerous declines” in immunization coverage, leading to increased risk of measles outbreaks, said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “This is why countries urgently need to prioritize measles catch-up immunization through routine services to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and ensure no child goes without this lifesaving vaccine.”

References:

1. Patel M, Goodson JL, Alexander JP, et al. Progress toward regional measles elimination ––worldwide, 2000-2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly World Report. November 13, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6945a6.htm?s_cid=mm6945a6_w

2. Worldwide measles deaths climb 50% from 2016 to 2019 claiming over 207,500 lives in 2019. News release. World Health Organization; November 13, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2020. https://www.who.int/news/item/12-11-2020-worldwide-measles-deaths-climb-50-from-2016-to-2019-claiming-over-207-500-lives-in-2019