The current Covid-19 has overshadowed other highly contagious diseases that are also taking their toll. Less surveillance and fewer vaccinations are causing the CDC to fear a global measles resurgence.
For the past two years, the world has been spinning at the pace of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving other equally serious viral diseases in the dust. The US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is concerned about measles, a highly infectious disease for which surveillance and prevention have reached an all-time low with the advent of Covid-19. Although data seems to show that the incidence of measles in 2020 has declined compared to 2017-2019, the CDC fears that this decline is only an illusion and that many more children will be infected than in previous years.
Worrying signs for the measles epidemic
In its annual report on measles, the CDC highlighted some worrying developments. In 2020, only 75 out of 194 WHO countries managed to vaccinate more than 90% of children with the first dose of the measles vaccine. In 2019, this number stood at 114 countries. This corresponds to approximately 22.3 million children worldwide who could not be protected. Most cases occurred in ten countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. The measles vaccination protocol consists of two doses: the first at the age of 12 months and the second between 16 and 18 months. The coverage rate after the second dose in 2020 was 70%, compared to 71% in 2019.
Measles surveillance also deteriorated in 2020. WHO measles and rubella laboratories received only 122,517 samples, the lowest rate since 2010. Therefore, the 2020 figures may be underestimated. In 2020, 26 measles outbreaks have been identified, with more than 20 cases per million people, mostly in Africa, but also in European countries such as Romania.
Since the introduction of a global measles elimination program in the five most affected regions in 2021, the incidence of measles has decreased significantly. Since the 2000s, vaccination has reduced deaths by 94%, saving around 31.7 million lives. But the balance remains fragile. Vaccination rates need to reach 95% to eliminate measles.
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