CDC and WHO sound global measles warning

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 10:14pm

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Measles Virus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An illustration of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle.

Following decades of progress and a 2000 declaration that the disease had been eliminated in the U.S., health officials are sounding a global alarm: Measles is regaining ground, and the recent polarization of vaccines isn’t helping.

On the heels of an outbreak of 73 cases in Ohio, an unrelated cluster of 22 in Minnesota and five cases in Arizona, the CDC and WHO warn that almost 24.7 million children worldwide missed their first measles vaccine dose in 2021, and 14.7 million missed their second.

An analysis of the CDC/WHO report appears in the journal JAMA.

Herd immunity requires a vaccination rate of 89-94% for the fast-spreading virus. The global rate sits at 81%, the lowest since 2008.

In Arizona, measles vaccination rates dropped from almost 92.9% to less than 90.6% from the 2018 to the 2021 school year.

In the year prior to October 2022, 29 significant measles outbreaks affected Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe.

But the virus was resurging even prior to the pandemic, with 1,300 cases reported in the U.S. and more than 870,000 cases globally in 2019.

Because of lax reporting standards in some jurisdictions, those counts likely fall well below the true numbers.

Measles spreads easily, but widespread vaccinations can effectively shut it down. Consequently, experts often view upticks in an area’s cases as an early indicator of a broader health system breakdown.

Indeed, many health systems are still struggling to get back on their feet following the strain placed on them by the COVID pandemic, which forced agencies worldwide to cut back on non-COVID services like routine immunizations and disease monitoring.

One possible consequence: a reported 18 measles vaccination campaigns planned for March 2022 — 61 million vaccine doses — had yet to occur as of December of last year.

Meanwhile, distrust of vaccines seems to have deepened and hardened during the coronavirus pandemic.

The authors call on the word’s governments to launch a concerted catch-up campaign and urge parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.

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