Measles is one of the most infectious viruses known and still kills more than 60,000 people annually, most of them young children. But it killed more than a million annually until 2000.
The CDC said Wednesday that reported measles cases fell in 2020 after the global resurgence of 2017-2019, but that millions of children did not get their vaccinations due to the pandemic and the decline in the number of reports may not necessarily be good news either. “The large and devastating 2020 measles outbreak suggests that measles transmission is underreported,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report on mortality and illness, MMWR.
“More than 22 million children missed their first dose of measles vaccine — 3 million more than in 2019 and the largest annual increase in more than 20 years,” the CDC said.
“While reported cases of measles have declined in 2020, evidence suggests that we are likely to see the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to increase worldwide,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s Division for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Global, in a statement. “It is critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the expense of basic immunization programmes. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise we risk exchanging one deadly disease for another.”
The CDC and the World Health Organization warn that the pandemic has damaged routine childhood vaccination programs.
“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, measles outbreaks, and disease detection and diagnosis to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” Dr. Kevin Kaine, CDC director of global immunization, said in a statement. “We must now work to strengthen disease surveillance systems and close immunity gaps, before travel and trade return to pre-pandemic levels, to prevent outbreaks of deadly measles and mitigate the risks of other vaccine-preventable diseases.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that measles vaccination programs prevent more than 31 million deaths annually.
“Even before the epidemic, we were seeing how even small pockets with low measles immunization coverage could trigger unprecedented epidemics, including in countries where eradication was considered,” said Ephrem Tekle Limango, associate director of immunization at UNICEF, in a statement, said COVID-19 is creating wide gaps in coverage at a pace not seen in decades. “Although we have not seen an increase in cases yet, measles is simply highly contagious. If we don’t act, the hiatus will turn into outbreaks, and many children will be exposed to a preventable but potentially fatal disease.”