In 2021, a record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose, leaving them susceptible to infection, according to a joint publication by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Measles vaccination coverage has steadily declined since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, 25 million children missed their first dose, and an additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose, the report says.
The reasons for the decrease are weakened measles surveillance and continued interruptions and delays in immunization activities due to COVID-19. In addition, large outbreaks were persistent in 2022.
According to the health authorities, measles is “an imminent threat” in every region of the world, as the virus can quickly spread to multiple communities and across international borders.
“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,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses. It can spread to others through coughing, sneezing, or contact with contaminated surfaces. Up to 90% of the people close to that person with measles who are not immune will also become infected.
The disease is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. However, coverage of 95% or greater of 2 doses is necessary to create herd immunity.
Currently, global coverage rates of the first dose of measles vaccination are the lowest since 2008, with only 81% of children receiving their first shot, the report says.
In 2022, a total of 51 measles cases were reported by 5 US jurisdictions, according to the CDC data.
Measles symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after contact with the virus and may include the following:
- high fever (may spike to more than 104°F or 40°C)
- runny nose
- red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)