The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday (local time) said that measles immunization had dropped significantly since the coronavirus pandemic began, resulting in a record high of nearly 40 million children missing a vaccine dose last year.
"There is now an imminent threat of measles spreading to different regions around the world as COVID-19 has led to a steady decline in vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease," said WHO and CDC in a joint report.
Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses and is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. However, it requires 95 per cent vaccination coverage to prevent community outbreaks.
"A record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021," read the joint report.
The WHO has already recorded an increase in large disruptive outbreaks since early 2022, going from 19 to nearly 30 by September, WHO's measles chief Patrick O'Connor said, adding he was particularly concerned about parts of sub-Saharan Africa, reported US Today.
Millions of children were now susceptible to measles, among the world's most contagious diseases. In 2021, officials said there were about nine million measles infections and 128,000 deaths worldwide.
The WHO and CDC said continued drops in vaccination, weak disease surveillance and delayed response plans due to COVID-19, and ongoing outbreaks in more than 20 countries, mean that "measles is an imminent threat in every region of the world."
More than 95 per cent of measles deaths occur in developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. There is no specific treatment for measles, but the two-dose vaccine against it is about 97 per cent effective in preventing severe illness and death.
In July, the UN said 25 million children have missed out on routine immunizations against diseases, including diphtheria, largely because the coronavirus disrupted routine health services or triggered vaccine misinformation.