The steady decline in measles vaccination coverage has made millions of children around the world more susceptible to the disease.
In a joint report released on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the decline in measles vaccinations.
According to the report, a record high of 25 million children missed their first dose and an additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose in 2021, while there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128 000 deaths from measles worldwide.
Declines in vaccine coverage, weakened measles surveillance, and continued interruptions and delays in immunization activities due to COVID-19, as well as persistent large outbreaks in 2022, mean that measles is 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,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Getting immunization programmes back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease,” he added.
Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses but is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. Coverage of 95 percent or greater of 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed to create herd immunity in order to protect communities and achieve and maintain measles elimination.
The world is well under that, with only 81 percent of children receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and only 71 percent of children receiving their second measles-containing vaccine dose. These are the lowest global coverage rates of the first dose of measles vaccination since 2008, although coverage varies by country.