‘Staggering’ increase in measles deaths, warns report

More than 130,000 people – mainly children – died of measles in 2022, an increase of 43% from 2021, according to a new report by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The organisations say the “staggering” global increase in deaths, as well as nine million cases last year, which represent an 18% rise on the previous year, is down to the decline in measles vaccination coverage.

CDC and WHO are now urging countries to find and vaccinate all children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2022, 37 countries experienced large or disruptive measles outbreaks. Of these, 28 were in the WHO Region for Africa, six in the Eastern Mediterranean, two in South-East Asia, and one in the European Region. It compares with 22 countries that experienced outbreaks the previous year.

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

“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.”

There was a small increase in global vaccination coverage in 2022 from 2021, but there were still 33 million children who missed a measles vaccine dose: nearly 22 million missed their first dose and an additional 11 million missed their second dose.

The global vaccine coverage rate of the first dose was 83%, and second dose 74%, when 95% coverage with two doses is needed 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%.

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

Kate O’Brien, WHO director for immunisation, vaccine and biologicals, 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 aren’t protected.

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

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