The United Nations has warned that the measles virus is spreading. In January and February this year, the number of measles notifications worldwide has increased by 79% compared with the same period last year, with the most severe cases in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and Ukraine. WHO and UNICEF recommend immediate action to increase measles vaccine coverage as soon as possible to prevent the next wave of outbreaks.
New York, NY (Merxwire) – WHO and UNICEF issued a stern warning a few days ago, fearing that measles outbreaks will break out after the COVID-19. Data show that the number of global measles cases has increased by as much as 80% this year, with Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and war-torn Ukraine being the most serious. The main reason is that after the outbreak of COVID-19, the normal vaccination activities have been affected, especially the vaccination rate of children’s measles vaccine has dropped the most. If action is not taken immediately, the health of tens of thousands of children will be endangered.
According to the latest statistics released by the United Nations, the number of global measles notifications reached 17,338 in January and February this year, a sharp increase of 79% compared with 9,665 cases in the same period last year. There have been 21 large-scale infections in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean in the past year. The country with the most infections is Somalia, with more than 9,000 cases, followed by Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. In Europe, the country with the highest incidence of measles from 2017 to 2019 was Ukraine, but after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, it is difficult to track the current situation of infection, so it has become one of the countries most worried by the United Nations.
The rapid rise in measles infections is due to the disruption of routine vaccination campaigns following the COVID-19 outbreak. The United Nations said more than 23 million children worldwide missed routine vaccinations in 2020, the most in nearly ten years. There were 57 vaccination campaigns in about 43 countries being delayed, including 19 for measles. As many as 203 million people are affected, and at least 73 million children have not been vaccinated against measles.
In addition to the impact of COVID-19, the increasingly uneven distribution of vaccines internationally is also one of the important reasons. In addition, most of the immunization-related vaccines were misappropriated during the epidemic, making it impossible for children to receive various vaccines including measles on time. When the epidemic gradually subsided and the children come back to school. Those children who were not vaccinated became a high-risk group for infection.
Countries with high numbers of measles infections include Ukraine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Wars and civil wars in these countries have displaced millions of people, affecting the availability of vaccines for COVID-19 and other vaccines. Coupled with the lack of clean water sources and sound sanitation facilities. The overcrowding of shelters had become breeding grounds for various infectious diseases and made the volatile situation even more difficult.
In the early stages of measles infection, cold-like symptoms such as cough, fever, and runny nose appear, along with white spots in the mouth and red eyes. About 3 to 7 days after the onset of the disease, a red rash begins to appear on the skin, starting from the face and spreading to the whole body. The onset period may range from one to three weeks, and in severe cases, there is a risk of death. In addition to the direct impact on the body, measles virus infection can also cause a weakened immune system, increasing the chance of pneumonia and diarrhea in children. Therefore, the interruption of vaccination or the uneven distribution of vaccines in vulnerable countries will seriously affect the health of children and adults.
UNICEF mentioned that in the five countries with the largest number of measles cases, by 2020, the coverage rate of the first dose of measles vaccine will be less than 70%, and the time of the second dose will be interrupted due to the epidemic. So there is a trend of the massive increase in the number of cases. WHO calls for the resumption of measles and other routine vaccines as soon as possible, so that the global 2-dose measles vaccine coverage rate reaches or exceeds 95%, which can effectively reduce the harm of the measles virus to children.
To stop this measles storm from getting worse, WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other organizations are working together to improve the immune function of children and adults. At present, they have taken the following measures: resume the routine vaccination program, enter the community to actively promote the importance of vaccination, improve the problem of uneven distribution of vaccines, so that the vulnerable can be vaccinated as soon as possible, and promote the independence of the COVID-19 vaccine subsidies to avoid crowding out resources for routine vaccines, as well as national plans to prevent and respond to various infectious diseases.
Even if a measles storm is brought under control after aggressive vaccination, it must not be taken lightly, as measles is the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases and is often used as a warning sign that there may be loopholes in the current vaccination system. After the COVID-19 virus hit the world for more than two years, it is not just tourism and the economy that need to recover. Various activities that have been suspended due to the epidemic may have unexpected aftereffects. UNICEF immunization officer Christopher Gregory reminded everyone that “yellow fever” may be the next disease to heat up, especially in vulnerable countries where the medical system can no longer handle the current situation.