‘Perfect storm’ of disease ahead with vaccines delayed and measles cases up, WHO and UNICEF say

“Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021,” the organizations said in a news release on Wednesday, noting there were 21 “large and disruptive” outbreaks, many in Africa and the East Mediterranean region.

“Pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” the organizations said, adding that as cities and countries relax Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, measles outbreaks become more likely.

“It is encouraging that people in many communities are beginning to feel protected enough from COVID-19 to return to more social activities. But doing so in places where children are not receiving routine vaccination creates the perfect storm for the spread of a disease like measles,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF executive director, said in the release.

Twenty-three million children missed out on childhood vaccinations in 2020, the organizations said. Childhood vaccination campaigns have been hindered recently by the Covid-19 pandemic and conflicts in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

As of April 1, “57 vaccine-preventable disease campaigns in 43 countries that were scheduled to take place since the start of the pandemic are still postponed, impacting 203 million people, most of whom are children,” the organizations said. “Of these, 19 are measles campaigns, which put 73 million children at risk of measles due to missed vaccinations.”

According to WHO and UNICEF, “coverage at or above 95 per cent with two doses of the safe and effective measles vaccine can protect against measles.” In all five countries with the highest cases in the last year, first dose coverage was below 70% in 2020.

In the US, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data last week that showed measles vaccinations in kindergarten students dropped to 93.6% in the 2020-2021 school year.

“We are concerned that missed routine vaccinations could leave children vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, which are extremely contagious and can be very serious, especially for babies and young children,” Dr. Shannon Stokley, deputy director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division said of the release of the vaccination data.

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