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Global Measles Threat Increases Due to Decline in Vaccine Coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted routine immunization programs around the world.

Nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021 and are “dangerously susceptible” to measles, according to a joint report published by the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). Measles vaccination coverage has been on a steady decline throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a CDC press release,1 25 million children missed their first measles vaccine dose and 14.7 million children missed their second dose. This decline is “a significant setback in global progress towards achieving and maintaining measles elimination,” the CDC noted.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles. Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MSc, PhD, WHO Director-General.

Although measles is one of the most contagious viruses, it is almost entirely preventable with vaccination. To achieve herd immunity, coverage of 95% or greater of 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is required. Globally, only 81% of children have received a first dose, and only 81% of children have received their second. In 2021, nearly 61 million doses of measles vaccines were missed or postponed due to COVID-19; globally, there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128,000 deaths due to measles in 2021, with 22 countries experiencing “large and disruptive outbreaks.”

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“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, CDC Director. “Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under-vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.”

Reference

  1. Nearly 40 million children are dangerously susceptible to growing measles threat. News release. CDC. November 23, 2022. Accessed November 28, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p1123-measles-threat.html

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