Measles Outbreaks Surge as Millions of Children Remain Unvaccinated
UNICEF Measles vaccination campaign in Tergol, Ethiopia.

Measles cases and deaths have skyrocketed worldwide, with 37 countries experiencing large or disruptive outbreaks in 2022 compared to 22 in 2021, according to a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report, published on Wednesday, highlights the devastating impact of declining vaccination rates on the measles situation globally. An estimated 9 million measles cases were reported in 2022, a 18% increase from 2021. Measles deaths also surged by 43%, reaching an estimated 136,000, mostly among children.

“The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is alarming, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we’ve seen in the past few years,” said John Vertefeuille, director of CDC’s Global Immunization Division. “Measles cases anywhere pose a threat to all communities where people are under-vaccinated.”

The report attributes the surge in measles outbreaks to a decline in vaccination coverage, with 33 million children missing out on a measles vaccine dose in 2022. The global vaccine coverage rate for the first dose stands at 83%, and for the second dose at 74%, both well below the 95% coverage needed to protect communities from outbreaks.

Low-income countries, where the risk of death from measles is highest, continue to bear the brunt of the crisis, with vaccination rates as low as 66%. Over half of the 22 million children who missed their first measles vaccine dose in 2022 reside in just 10 countries: Angola, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

“The lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries following the pandemic is an urgent call to action,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “Measles is the inequity virus, it will find and attack those who aren’t protected. Every child, no matter where they live, deserves the protection of the measles vaccine.

CDC and WHO are urging countries to prioritize measles vaccination and to work with global stakeholders to reach the most vulnerable communities. They also emphasize the need for robust surveillance systems and outbreak response capacity to rapidly detect and respond to measles outbreaks.

Image Credits: Flickr – UNICEF Ethiopia.

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