The COVID pandemic has caused a steady decline in vaccination coverage and weakened measles surveillance, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Wednesday. As a result, there is now an immediate risk of measles spreading in numerous regions around the world.
The health organizations claimed in a joint report that there had been a decrease in measles vaccination rates and a decrease in the disease's monitoring during the COVID pandemic.
One of the most contagious human viruses, measles could nearly totally be avoided with vaccination, albeit 95% of people must receive the shot to do so.
Due to obstacles brought on by the COVID pandemic, a record number of approximately 40 million children failed to receive a dosage of the measles vaccine in 2021.
While measles cases have not yet increased significantly in comparison to prior years, the WHO's measles chief, Dr. Patrick O'Connor, told Reuters that now is the moment to act.
"We are at a crossroads," he said. "It is going to be a very challenging 12-24 months trying to mitigate this."
Although the number of cases has not yet increased noticeably compared to prior years, he said it is still important to take action. O'Connor said that the lack of an increase in cases could be attributed to continuing social exclusionary practices and the cyclical nature of the measles.
It is a highly contagious disease, therefore this could alter very fast.
He added that he was particularly concerned about areas of sub-Saharan Africa and that the UN health agency had already noticed an increase in big disruptive outbreaks since the beginning of the year, growing from 19 to roughly 30 by September.
A measles case often begins with a fever, but the illness is defined by a rash that spreads from the face and neck within a few days.
According to the WHO, the virus can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours, and an infected individual can transfer the virus for up to four days before and after the rash appears. There is no specific antiviral medication available to treat measles.
Unvaccinated young children are most vulnerable to measles and its complications. It can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (brain inflammation), and immune system impairment, making children more vulnerable to subsequent illnesses.
Developing nations, primarily in Africa and Asia, account for more than 95% of deaths.
Approximately 128,000 measles-related deaths are predicted to occur globally in 2021, according to the report.