At least 207,500 people died from measles in 2019 according to a survey jointly published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Authorities of the agencies attributed the increased death to the decrease in the distribution of measles vaccine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The alarming figure is the highest measles deaths recorded for the past 23 years.
Public health care practitioners are even more concerned that this figure might increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which seems to be waxing stronger in some regions of the world. The survey also revealed that 869,770 measles infections were recorded all over the world, 1,282 of that figure recorded in 31 states in the United States.
This figure is quite alarming for the United States because only 55 measles cases were recorded in 2012. The last time such high measles infection cases were recorded in the US was in 1992, 28 years ago. There was, however, no death recorded from measles in the country. Medical practitioners are worried that measles which is even more contagious than COVID-19 could continue to spread as a result of the decrease in the distribution of vaccines, Bloomberg reports.
“These figures are alarming, and we are worried that immunity gaps are opening up due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, senior technical adviser for measles and rubella at the WHO explained. “If we want to see changes then we need to change the way we operate.”
Crowcroft stated that more funds are needed to combat the problem. Health care practitioners are worried that the figures that have been released for measles this year, though lower than last year’s are grossly incorrect as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the healthcare sector in countries all over the world, resulting in under-counting of measles cases amidst other disruptions.
The pandemic, according to health care experts is also responsible for reduced prevention and treatment of measles which means that even more people might have contracted the disease this year. According to the WHO, 26 countries had to postpone measles vaccine programs as a result of the pandemic and at least 13 of those countries have had outbreaks of the infectious disease.
The World Health Organization predicts that at least 94 million people all over the world run the risk of not getting vaccines for measles this year. The Measles and Rubella Initiative which reported the outbreaks of measles in some regions of the world is a group formed by the WHO, CDC, American Red Cross, UNICEF, and the United Nations Foundation.
The group is urging for continued measles vaccination programs even during the pandemic as medical resources are already being stretched thin by the COVID-19 pandemic. One such vaccination program in conjunction with the Ethiopian government was able to vaccinate 14.5 million children for measles despite the pandemic.
Nine countries in the world have been battling with the outbreaks more than others. These countries, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, North Macedonia, Samoa, Tonga, and Ukraine are responsible for 73% of the cases recorded in 2019, according to the group.
Robb Linkins, the chairperson of the group’s management team who is an epidemiologist at the CDC explained it is disheartening and almost unbelievable that babies are dying from the infectious disease every day when an effective measles vaccine has been available for 50 years.