Measles cases hit 23-year high as children left unvaccinated due to COVID pandemic

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Measles infections surged to a global 23-year high in 2019, and millions more are at risk this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.

The United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) said nearly 870,000 people contracted measles last year and more than 207,000 died from the disease.

These are the worst figures since 1996 and have been attributed to the fact that vaccination levels fell below the critical 95% required for community protection.

The measles virus
Image: Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases

The report also warned that millions of children are at a risk of contracting the disease this year after coronavirus restrictions disrupted immunisation programmes.

Measles is a highly contagious disease.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said the data sends “a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world”.

The latest figures mean the number of global measles deaths occurring across the world has increased by nearly 50% since 2016.

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The report said the main reason for the increase is because of a collective failure to fully immunise children with two doses of the measles vaccine on time.

It also warned that attempts to prevent measles outbreaks have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Currently, more than 94 million people are considered to be at risk, it said.

Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI global vaccine alliance, said: “COVID-19 has resulted in dangerous declines in immunisation coverage.”

He said the “alarming” report is a warning that “we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball” as coronavirus continues to occupy health systems globally.

Measles cases began to increase in 2017 after steady downward progress was made between 2010 and 2016.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine are among places that have suffered significant outbreaks in recent times.

The WHO and UNICEF have called on governments to act now in order to prevent outbreaks of measles, polio, or other infectious diseases, becoming epidemics.

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