Measles will be back after 22 million babies miss their shots: WHO

The risk of measles outbreaks returning is high, the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned, after more than 22 million infants missed their first vaccine doses in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reported measles situations fell by more than 80 per cent last year compared with 2019, but a higher number of children missing their vaccine doses leaves them unprotected, a joint report by the WHO and the Centres for Disease Control showed on Wednesday.

About 3 million more children missed the shots in 2020 than the past year, the largest increase in two decades, threatening global efforts to ultimately eradicate the highly infectious viral disease.

The highly infectious disease is especially dangerous for young children who haven’t had the MMR vaccination.

“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to sustain COVID responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” the CDC’s immunisation head, Kevin Cain, said.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases, more so than COVID-19, Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can be especially dangerous for babies and young children, with pneumonia among the possible complications.

In 2019, reported situations of measles were at their highest in almost a quarter of a century.

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The latest report said 24 measles vaccination campaigns originally planned for 2020 in 23 countries were postponed, leaving more than 93 million people at risk.

“It’s basic 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 basic immunisation programs,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s department of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals.

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