A growing number of children around the world are at risk of measles as vaccination coverage has fallen to its lowest level since 2008, world health leaders warned on Wednesday.
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted routine vaccination services, leading to millions of children missing out on measles vaccinations, according to a report by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 81% of children worldwide received their first dose of measles vaccine in 2021, down from 86% in 2019 before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. According to the report, 25 million children are at risk of measles.
Public health experts estimate that 95% of children must be vaccinated against measles to prevent outbreaks. The measles vaccine comes in two doses, but the first dose is the most important because it is 93% effective in preventing the disease.
Over the past 20 years, steady progress has been made toward the elimination of measles. Measles deaths worldwide fell by 83% from 761,000 in 2000 to 128,000 in 2021 as vaccinations increased, the report said.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and WHO head Dr. However, in separate statements on Wednesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern that measles could return as vaccination rates have been declining for two years.
The US has officially eliminated measles for more than 20 years, but travelers occasionally bring the virus into the country. This can cause outbreaks if vaccination rates are too low in their communities, according to the CDC.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to man. It poses a serious health risk to children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 20, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
The virus is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and can remain in the air for up to two hours. Measles is so contagious that a person who becomes infected will pass it on to 90% of their close contacts who are unprotected, according to the CDC.
One in five unvaccinated people who catch measles is hospitalized, according to the CDC. One in 20 unvaccinated children who catch measles will develop pneumonia, 3 in 1,000 will develop brain swelling, and up to 3 in 1,000 will die from respiratory or neurological complications.
Symptoms begin with a high fever, which can rise to more than 104 degrees, with a cough and runny nose. White spots then appear in the mouth and a rash of red spots appears on the body.
The two-dose vaccine is 97% effective in preventing measles. The first dose is given between the ages of 1 year and 15 months and the second dose is given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.