Focus on COVID could trigger measles crises, warns WHO

Focus on COVID could trigger measles crises, warns WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the increase in unvaccinated children could increase the risk of a measles outbreak that puts lives in danger.

According to WHO, more than 22 million children missed their first dose of measles vaccine in 2021,  and three million more in 2019 making the largest increase in two decades. This, WHO said, could create a dangerous condition for an outbreak to occur.

According to the report, in the previous year, measles cases decreased by more than 80 per cent in 2020.

The Managing Director for Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for Global Immunisation for World Health Organisation, Kavin Cain, said that all the support for immunisation against measles outbreak and disease detection and diagnosis have been diverted to support COVID-19 and as result, the measles-related death and serious implication in children have increased.

“We must act now to strengthen diseases surveillance system and close immunity gaps before travel and trade return to pre-pandemic level and deadly measles outbreak and mitigate the risk of other vaccines preventable disease,” said Cain.   

Director of WHO Department of Immunization, Vaccine and Biological, Dr Kate O.Brien  said that the evidence suggested that there is a high risk of the outbreak continuing to grow around the world, although the World the Organization has recorded cases of drop-in measles in 2020.    

“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, Anuradha Gupta said that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the country’s ability to deliver good health services such as immunisation to its people, placing millions of them at risk of highly infectious disease like measles.

He said the priority of the Gavi as an organization is to help the countries mitigate the risk and prevent disease outbreaks by closing growing immunity gaps through strengthening routine immunization on reaching zero–dose children who are most at the risk of the outbreak.

UNICEF Associate Director for Immunization, Ephrem Tekle Lemango said that there is a need to act to prevent many children from being exposed to a preventable and potentially deadly disease  

 “The decline of reported cases in measles means we have to redouble our efforts to protect the millions of endangered kids from dying of a fully preventable disease,” said Tekle.

According to WHO, measles surveillance also deteriorated with the lowest number of specimens sent for laboratory testing in over a decade. Weak measles monitoring, testing and reporting for measles jeopardize countries’ ability to prevent outbreaks of this highly infectious disease. Major measles outbreaks occurred in 26 countries and accounted for 84 per cent of all reported cases in 2020.

The ability of countries to ensure children receive both recommended doses of measles vaccine is a key indicator of global progress toward measles elimination and capacity to prevent the spread of the virus.  

First-dose coverage fell in 2020, and only 70 per cent of children received their second dose measles vaccine, well below the 95 per cent coverage needed to protect communities from the spread of the measles virus.

The report added that to the worsening of immunity gaps worldwide, 24 measles vaccination campaigns in 23 countries, originally planned for 2020, were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic – leaving more than 93 million people at risk for the disease.

These supplemental campaigns are needed where people have missed out on measles-containing vaccines through routine immunization programs.