Nearly 40 million children are susceptible to growing measles threat, says WHO

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Vaccination coverage against measles has steadily declined since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, a record of almost 40 million children missed some dose of the disease vaccine, with 25 million for the first dose and an additional 14.7 million who failed to receive the second dose.

The data are from a joint publication by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, released this Wednesday (23). According to WHO, the decline represents a significant setback in global progress towards achieving and maintaining measles elimination and leaves millions of children susceptible to the infection.

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In 2021, there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128,000 deaths from measles worldwide. At least 22 countries have had major outbreaks, warns the WHO. Declines in immunization coverage, weakened surveillance, and continued interruptions or delays in immunization activities due to Covid-19, mean that measles is an imminent threat in all regions of the world.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while Covid-19 vaccines were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were seriously disrupted and millions of children missed out on life-saving vaccines. against deadly diseases such as measles,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom.

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The director general of WHO emphasizes the importance of strengthening immunization programs. “Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”

Expansion of vaccination coverage

Measles is an infectious disease caused by a virus, which can be fatal. Transmission happens from contact with contaminated people, from coughing, talking, sneezing or breathing. Although it is one of the most contagious viruses that affect humans, measles is almost entirely preventable through vaccination.

The WHO states that it is coverage of 95% or more than two doses of vaccine is required to create the call herd immunity which helps protect communities and achieve and maintain measles elimination.

However, the report points out that the world is well below that, with only 81% of children receiving their first dose of measles vaccine and only 71% of those fully immunized. These are the lowest global first-dose measles vaccination coverage rates since 2008, although coverage varies by country.

Urgent global action needed

Measles anywhere is an everywhere threat as the virus can spread rapidly to multiple communities and across international borders. No WHO region has achieved and maintained measles elimination. Since 2016, ten countries that had already eliminated measles had outbreaks and re-established transmission, including Brazil.

Brazil received the measles elimination certificate, granted by the WHO, in 2016. Three years later, the country lost this status after the reintroduction of the virus in the country and confirmation of new cases.

“The record number of measles-susceptible children shows the profound damage immunization systems have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. “Measles outbreaks illustrate the shortcomings of immunization programs, but public health officials can use the outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand the causes of undervaccination, and help provide locally adapted solutions to ensure vaccines are available. for all”.

In 2021, Nearly 61 million measles vaccine doses were delayed or missed due to COVID-19-related delays in immunization campaigns in 18 countries.

The WHO points out that delays increase the risk of outbreaks and urges health authorities to amplify vaccination efforts and strengthen surveillance 🇧🇷 CDC and WHO urge coordinated and collaborative action from all partners at the global, regional, national and local levels to prioritize efforts to find and immunize all unprotected children, including those who have fallen behind in the past two years.

Measles outbreaks illustrate deficiencies in immunization programs and other essential health services, according to WHO. To mitigate the risk of outbreaks, countries and global stakeholders must invest in robust surveillance systems.

In line with the Immunization Agenda 2030 global immunization strategy, global immunization partners remain committed to supporting investments in strengthening surveillance as a means to detect outbreaks quickly, respond urgently, and immunize all children who are not yet protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Source: CNN Brasil

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