UN: Measles cases surge 79% after pandemic disruptions
Measles cases jumped 79% globally in 2022 compared to the same period last year, United Nations health experts warned Wednesday.
Why it matters: The rise in January and February "is a worrying sign of a heightened risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases," per a joint statement from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
- It "could trigger larger outbreaks, particularly of measles affecting millions of children in 2022," the agencies said.
- "Pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases," the statement notes.
What they're saying: WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic had "interrupted immunization services, health systems have been overwhelmed."
- The world is "seeing a resurgence of deadly diseases including measles" and for "many other diseases, the impact of these disruptions to immunization services will be felt for decades to come," Tedros added.
- "Now is the moment to get essential immunization back on track and launch catch-up campaigns so that everybody can have access to these life-saving vaccines."
Of note: UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a statement it's "encouraging that people in many communities are beginning to feel protected enough from COVID-19 to return to more social activities."
- "But doing so in places where children are not receiving routine vaccination creates the perfect storm for the spread of a disease like measles," Russell added.
The big picture: There were "21 large and disruptive measles outbreaks around the world in the last 12 months" — mostly in Africa and the East Mediterranean region, according to the WHO and UNICEF.
- Countries with the largest measles outbreaks in the past year include Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.
By the numbers: "Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021," the UN agencies note.
- As of April 1, 57 vaccine-preventable disease campaigns in 43 countries that were scheduled to take place since the start of the pandemic remained postponed, impacting 203 million people — most of whom are children, UN research shows.
- Of these, 19 are measles campaigns, which put 73 million children at risk of measles due to missed vaccinations.
State of play: Coverage at or above 95% with two doses of the safe and effective measles vaccine can protect children against measles, the WHO and UNICEF note.
- However, pandemic-related disruptions have delayed the introduction of the second dose of the measles vaccine in many countries.
- In the U.S., a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report last week found kindergartners had a 93.9% vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella, per CNN.
- Compared with the 2019–20 school year, overall vaccination coverage fell by about 1% percentage point, the CDC notes.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the measles catch-up campaign was interrupted first due to the pandemic and then because of the Russian invasion of the country, the WHO and UNICEF said.