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WHO warns 40 million children to face the growing threat of measles

Profile photo: A Somali child receives measles vaccination in Dolloado refugee camp on 11 August 2011
Profile photo: A Somali child receives a measles vaccination in Dolloado refugee camp on 11 August 2011

More than 40 million children missed out on measles vaccination last year, leading to a major setback in global efforts to eradicate the highly contagious disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a joint report on Wednesday (November 23).

Global measles vaccine (MCV) coverage fell from 86% in 2019 to 81% in 2021, the lowest coverage since 2008, due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that disrupted vaccination campaigns in some countries.

The report warns that almost all of the 40 million children who miss the first or second dose of the measles vaccine are now “dangerously vulnerable to the growing threat of measles.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: “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 schedules have been severely disrupted. Millions of children miss out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles. “

The record number of under-immunized and measles-prone children shows that the immune system has suffered profound damage during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC.

Last year, about 9 million cases of measles were reported worldwide, including 128,000 deaths.

Over the past two decades, successful measles vaccination campaigns have helped prevent an estimated 56 million deaths globally, according to WHO.

Ten countries in Asia and Africa – India, Somalia, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Liberia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Congo – have the highest number of measles cases and deaths in the world.

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COVID-19 restrictions have also disrupted immunization campaigns against polio, another infectious virus that causes irreversible paralysis of children under 5. Polio has been eradicated worldwide, with the exception of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where immunization activities have been restricted due to insecurity and limited public awareness.

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