Millions of children throughout the United States and the world could become susceptible for catching measles due to a recent record lapse in vaccinations, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a press release Wednesday.
"The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the release. "Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease."
According to the joint release, a record 40 million children missed a dose of the vaccine in 2021, resulting in a "significant setback" in eliminating the disease throughout the world.
There were some 9 million cases of measles in 2021, resulting in 128,000 deaths from a disease that is 95% preventable through two doses of the vaccine to create herd immunity from the highly contagious disease, the release said.
COVID, however, disrupted vaccination routines and surveillance for measles, leading to "persistent large outbreaks" of the disease, causing it to be an "imminent threat" in all regions of the world.
Calling the situation "grave," the joint release said that with just 81% of children getting the first vaccine dose, and a smaller 71% getting the second dose, the level of herd immunity required to eliminate the disease is below what is needed.
The organizations estimate that 61 million vaccine doses were postponed or missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 18 different countries, increasing the chances for large outbreaks unless national and world health agencies can accelerate vaccine delivery now.
"The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in the release. "Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under-vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all."
The release said outbreaks show the weaknesses of immunization programs, and "robust" investments must now be made for surveillance systems to track exposures and outbreaks of the disease.
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