The number of measles infections has decreased over the past two decades, although it remains a deadly threat, especially to unvaccinated young children in the developing world. But there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128,000 deaths globally last year, up from 7.5 million cases and 60,700 in 2020. The increase came amid poor disease surveillance and vaccine campaigns delayed by the pandemic, the WHO said. and the Center for Disease Control.
Vaccination can also confer benefits to society, a concept known as herd immunity. The two bodies said that about 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated with two doses for herd immunity to occur, but only about 81 percent of children globally have received their first dose, and 71 percent the second.
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Measles, which begins with cold-like symptoms, compromises the immune system, leaving sufferers more susceptible to other illnesses. Epileptic seizures and blindness are possible in some cases, according to Britain’s National Health Service.
The World Health Organization had previously warned that the decline in measles cases early in the epidemic was the “calm before the storm”.
“Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened,” despite the coronavirus, said Kate O’Brien, director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals at the World Health Organization, last year. Otherwise, “we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”
Hor Jian, an infectious disease expert at Yeungnam University Medical Center in South Korea, said the recent uptick in global travel heralds a possible resurgence of measles even in wealthy countries with higher vaccine coverage. She added that younger generations, who are less exposed to the disease, may have weaker defenses.
The United States declared it had eliminated measles—defined as a year of non-transmissibility and a well-functioning surveillance system—in 2000, but occasional outbreaks still occur. More than 50 cases have been detected this year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Erin Blackmore contributed to this report.