More than 22 million infants missed their first measles vaccine in 2020, according to a report by the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHO said in a statement the 22 million tally was “the largest increase in two decades” and sets the stage for “creating dangerous conditions for outbreaks to occur.”
While reports of measles decreased by 80% in 2020, WHO says that figure is misleading because measles surveillance deteriorated with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Evidence suggests we are likely seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to grow around the world,” Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals said in a statement.
“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another,” she said.
WHO said there were “major measles outbreaks” in 26 countries, representing 84% of all reported cases in 2020.
“We must act now to strengthen disease surveillance systems and close immunity gaps, before travel and trade return to pre-pandemic levels, to prevent deadly measles outbreaks and mitigate the risk of other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Kevin Cain, CDC’s global immunization director.
Measles is one of the world’s most contagious human viruses although it is almost entirely preventable through vaccination.