Global Health Asia-Pacific Special Issue - Page 44

Medical News

The growing threat of measles

More children need to be vaccinated against the deadly virus if world wants to eliminate it

Areduction in measles vaccination since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has left almost 40 million children vulnerable to the infectious disease , according to a joint report by the World Health Organization ( WHO ) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ).

In 2021 , 25 million children didn ’ t receive the first dose of the measles vaccine while 14.7 million missed the second dose mostly due to interruptions and delays caused by the spread of COVID-19 . In the same year , large measles outbreaks took place in 22 countries , and some persisted in 2022 , with the disease now an imminent threat in every region of the world .
“ 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 programmes 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 in a press release . “ Getting immunization programmes back on track is absolutely critical . Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease .”
Measles is a serious viral condition that can lead to potentially fatal complications , including blindness , brain swelling , severe diarrhoea , and infections like pneumonia . In 2021 , the condition led to 128,000 deaths .
Though measles is one of the most contagious diseases in humans spread through the air when people cough or sneeze , it can be easily prevented with two doses of an effective vaccine that ’ s been given to children for decades . At least 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to provide herd immunity and eliminate the disease . However , only 81 percent have so far received one dose while the rate for the second dose is even lower , standing at 71 percent , the lowest coverage rates since 2008 .
While 10 countries managed to eliminate it for a while , they still saw a return of infections after 2016 , highlighting the difficulties in eradicating measles .
“ The record number of children underimmunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic ,” said CDC Director Dr Rochelle P . Walensky in the press release . “ Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs , but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk , understand causes of undervaccination , and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all .”
Since vaccination delays make outbreaks more likely , the CDC and WHO , along with other stakeholders , are calling for public health officials across the world to strengthen vaccination efforts and surveillance to protect all unvaccinated children .
“ We have a short window of opportunity to urgently make up for lost ground in measles vaccination and protect every child . The time for decisive action is now ,” said Ephrem Tekle Lemango , UNICEF Chief of Immunization .
“ Routine immunization programmes were badly disrupted , and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles .”
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