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Global measles threat grows with millions of unvaccinated children

Global measles threat grows with millions of unvaccinated children
After years of declines in vaccination coverage, the global threat of measles has increased, primarily among children, with an estimated increase in cases to 9 million and 136,000 deaths. Photo: Canva.

After years of declines in measles vaccination coverage, cases of this disease in 2022 increased 18 percent, while deaths grew 43 percent globally (compared to 2021), raising the estimated number of cases to 9 million and deaths to 136 thousand, mainly among children.

This is according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, where they specify that measles continues to pose an increasing threat to children. 

In 2022, 37 countries experienced large or disruptive outbreaks compared to 22 countries in 2021. Among the nations that experienced outbreaks, 28 were in the WHO African Region, six in the Eastern Mediterranean, two in Southeast Asia and one in the European Region.

“The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately not unexpected given the decline in vaccination rates we have seen in recent years,” said John Vertefeuille, director of the CDC's Division of Global Immunization. . 

In that sense, he pointed out that measles cases anywhere represent a risk for all countries and communities where people are not sufficiently vaccinated. ?It is essential to make urgent and specific efforts to prevent disease and deaths from measles.?  

Measles can be prevented with two doses of measles vaccine. 

While 2022 saw a modest increase in global vaccination coverage over 2021, there were still 33 million children who missed a dose of measles vaccine: nearly 22 million missed their first dose and another 11 million missed their second dose. 

The global vaccination coverage rate for the first dose, at 83 percent, and the second dose, at 74 percent, was still well below the 95 percent coverage with the two doses needed to protect communities from sprouts.

Low-income countries, where the risk of death from measles is highest, continue to have the lowest vaccination rates, at just 66 percent; a rate that does not show any recovery from the decline during the pandemic. 

Of the 22 million children who missed their first dose of measles vaccine in 2022, more than half live in just 10 countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Philippines.

?The lack of recovery of measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries after the pandemic is a warning signal to act. Measles is called the virus of inequality for good reason. "Is it the disease that will find and attack those who are not protected?" said Kate O'Brien, director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at the WHO. ?Children around the world have the right to be protected by the lifesaving measles vaccine, no matter where they live.?  

Given this, the CDC and WHO urge countries to find and vaccinate all children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases and encourage global stakeholders to help countries vaccinate their most vulnerable communities. 

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Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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