Measles Outbreaks Returned in Every Region
Around the world, measles cases surged in 2019 reaching the highest level in 23 years, reported the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Global measles fatalities climbed nearly 50 percent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207,500 lives in 2019 alone, reported the WHO on November 12, 2020.
Measles outbreaks occur when people who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. Around 90 percent of people who are not protected will become infected following exposure to the measles virus.
The reason behind this alarming increase is ‘a failure to vaccinate children on time with 2-doses of measles-containing vaccines (MCV1 and MCV2), stated this new WHO report.
“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a related press statement. “These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world.”
“We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine, and stop this deadly virus.”
To prevent measles outbreaks, measles vaccination coverage rates must reach 95 percent and be maintained at national and sub-national levels.
MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for more than a decade at between 84 and 85 percent. And MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing but is now only at 71 percent.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimize measles outbreaks.
As of November 2020, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries. Many of these countries are experiencing ongoing measles outbreaks.
Of countries with postponed vaccination campaigns, only eight (Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, and Somalia) resumed their campaigns after initial delays report the WHO.
As of October 13, 2020, the CDC’s latest data indicates Brazil (4,256) and Nigeria (3,149) have reported the most measles cases during 2020.
And during 2019, most measles outbreaks in the USA were all linked to travel-related cases that reached at-risk populations.
To address these outbreaks, on November 6, 2020, the WHO and UNICEF issued an emergency call to action for measles prevention and response.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, added: “While health systems are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another. This means ensuring we have the resources to continue immunization campaigns for all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”
In response, global immunization partners are engaging leaders and public health professionals in affected and at-risk countries to ensure that measles vaccines are available and safely delivered and that caregivers understand the life-saving benefit of the vaccine.
“Measles virus easily finds unprotected children, adolescents, and adults because it is so contagious,” said Dr. Robert Linkins, Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) Management Team Chair and Accelerated Disease Control Branch Chief at U.S. CDC.
Since 2000, M&RI has helped deliver over 5.5 billion doses of measles vaccine to children worldwide and saved over 25.5 million lives by increasing vaccination coverage, responding to outbreaks, monitoring, and evaluation, and supporting demand for the vaccine.
A bold strategy released by M&RI, Measles & Rubella Strategic Framework 2021 – 2030, will help to address reversals in global progress toward measles elimination by bolstering strong, national immunization systems that can reach and protect children. This strategic shift by the partnership will focus on strengthening the routine delivery of all vaccines, and quickly and effectively detecting and responding to measles outbreaks.
“Our collective efforts to reach children with vaccines now, ahead of the possible easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions and increased population movement, will save lives.”
The M&RI includes American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. CDC, UNICEF, and global immunization partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.
In the USA, the M-M-R-II vaccine is commonly available. It is indicated for simultaneous vaccination against measles (rubeola), mumps, and rubella (German measles). This vaccine is usually given to people 1-year-old or older.
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