The threat of measles is escalating, as highlighted by a recent joint report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2022, there was an alarming 18% increase in measles infections and a staggering 43% rise in deaths compared to the previous year. The majority of these cases and deaths occurred in low-income countries, underscoring the disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. This concerning trend emphasizes the urgent need for global action to address declining vaccination rates and prevent further devastation.
The surge in measles cases can be attributed to declining vaccination rates worldwide. Routine childhood vaccinations are highly effective in preventing measles, but the report indicates a decline in vaccination rates globally. The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in this decline, as disruptions in routine vaccinations and the spread of misinformation fueled vaccine hesitancy. For example, in Canada, there has been a concerning drop in vaccination rates among Grade 12 students, with only 22% up-to-date on routine vaccinations at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
While there has been a modest increase in global vaccine coverage, 33 million children still missed a measles vaccine dose in 2022. Low-income countries, where the risk of measles-related deaths is highest, continue to struggle with the lowest vaccination rates. Urgent efforts are needed to reverse declining vaccination rates and prevent measles-related deaths.
Dr Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, warns of the potential for increased measles cases in Canada and other countries as global travel resumes. He also highlights the broader implications of the measles resurgence, suggesting it could be a sign of outbreaks in other vaccine-preventable diseases. Urgent, targeted efforts are necessary to address declining vaccination rates and prevent further loss of life.
The report identifies low-income countries as particularly vulnerable to measles-related deaths, with vaccination rates stagnating at 66%. Over half of the 22 million children who missed their first measles vaccine dose in 2022 reside in just 10 countries. The WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccine, and Biologicals emphasizes the lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries as a concerning signal for action. Every child, regardless of their location, has the right to be protected by the measles vaccine.
Both the CDC and WHO are calling on countries to intensify efforts to find and vaccinate all children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Global stakeholders are urged to support these efforts and invest in robust surveillance systems and outbreak response capacity. Only through a collective and concerted global response can we hope to curb the escalating threat of measles and safeguard the health of children worldwide.
In conclusion, immediate and comprehensive action is needed to address declining vaccination rates and prevent further loss of life due to measles. This includes dispelling vaccine hesitancy, countering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine vaccinations, and ensuring equitable access to immunization. The global health community must come together to combat the escalating threat of measles and protect the health of children worldwide.