SWITZERLAND – According to a new report by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 22 million children missed their first dose of measles vaccine in 2020, representing the largest increase in two decades and raising concerns about future outbreaks.
The 22 million children who missed their first dose represent a 3 million increase from 2019. Furthermore, only 70% of children received their second dose, falling short of the required target of 95%.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 24 measles vaccination campaigns scheduled were postponed. As a result, the CDC and WHO estimate that more than 93 million people are at risk of contracting the disease in the future.
While reported cases have decreased by more than 80% by 2020, the WHO reports that the risk of measles is actually increasing.
This is due to a decline in immunization and a deterioration in measles surveillance, with the lowest number of samples sent to laboratories to be tested in over a decade; thus, jeopardizing countries’ ability to prevent outbreaks.
“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” Kevin Cain, the CDC’s global immunization director, said in a statement.
In 2020, three million fewer babies were immunized against the potentially fatal disease than in 2019. Overall, only 70% of infants received both doses of the two-dose vaccine, which health officials say is far below the 95% threshold required to protect communities from an outbreak.
The measles vaccine is extremely effective at preventing the disease, which is caused by one of the most contagious human viruses on the planet.
The measles virus has a reproduction number of 12–18, which far outnumbers that of other emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which has a reproduction number of 2.5–3.5.
In the last 20 years, the vaccine has saved an estimated 30 million lives. However, because of the low missed vaccinations occasioned by the pandemic, and estimated 7.5 million people had the disease in 2020, and 60,700 died as a result of it.
Enhancing measles vaccine coverage amidst pandemic
Subsequently, countries must prioritize ‘catch-up’ vaccination in order to protect children who have missed out.
Keeping vaccinators confident and safe necessitates appropriate infection-control measures, and these vital workers should be near the front of the COVID-19 vaccination line.
Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals said that countries must ensure that resources for routine immunizations are not diverted to coronavirus vaccination efforts and that vaccinations related to the ongoing pandemic receive new funding. If this does not occur, she claims, “we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines should include strategies to minimize further negative effects on childhood immunization.
Additionally, safety monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines after approval must be rigorous, as a loss of confidence in these vaccines could lead to widespread vaccine hesitancy, causing significant harm to childhood immunization coverage.