43% increase in global measles deaths from 2021 to 2022; experts blame it on declining vaccination rates

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43% increase in global measles deaths from 2021 to 2022; experts blame it on declining vaccination rates

Representational image of a measles vaccination camp in Mumbai
| Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

The number of measles deaths globally increased by 43% from 2021-2022, following years of declining vaccination rates, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report noted that in 2022, 37 countries experienced large or disruptive measles outbreaks compared with 22 countries in 2021.

Of the countries experiencing outbreaks, 28 were in the WHO Region for Africa, six in the Eastern Mediterranean, two in the South-East Asia, and one in the European Region, WHO said.

“The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we have seen in the past few years,” said John Vertefeuille, director of CDC’s Global Immunization Division.

“Measles cases anywhere pose a risk to all countries and communities where people are under-vaccinated. Urgent, targeted efforts are critical to prevent measles disease and deaths,” Mr. Vertefeuille said in a statement.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can cause severe disease, complications, and even death.

Measles is preventable with two doses of vaccine. While a modest increase in global vaccination coverage occurred in 2022 from 2021, there were still 33 million children who missed a measles vaccine dose, according to the global health body.

Nearly 22 million missed their first dose and an additional 11 million missed their second dose, it said.

The global vaccine coverage rate of the first dose, at 83%, and second dose, at 74%, were still well under the 95% coverage with two doses that is necessary to protect communities from outbreaks.

Low-income countries, where the risk of death from measles is highest, continue to have the lowest vaccination rates at only 66%, showing no recovery at all from the backsliding during the pandemic, the report said.

Of the 22 million children who missed their first measles vaccine dose in 2022, over half live in just 10 countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Philippines, it said.

“The lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries following the pandemic is an alarm bell for action. Measles is called the inequity virus for good reason. It is the disease that will find and attack those who are not protected,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccine and Biologicals.

“Children everywhere have the right to be protected by the lifesaving measles vaccine, no matter where they live,” O’Brien added.

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