May 4, 2022
In a story by Reuters, data from UNICEF and WHO show cases of measles jumped 79% in the first two months of 2022 compared to 2021. Reported cases for January and February of this year totaled 17,338 worldwide, up from 9,665 for the same period of last year. The leap has been attributed to disruptions in child vaccination campaigns around the world due to COVID-19.
The highly transmissible disease’s nature, along with the immunization gaps and relaxing of masking and social distancing in the wake of the pandemic was described by the executive director of UNICEF as a “perfect storm.” Nineteen measles immunization campaigns were affected worldwide by the pandemic, putting 73 million children at risk, according to the two organizations. Campaigns for other diseases, such as typhoid and polio, were also disrupted.
The five countries with the largest measles outbreaks in the last 12 months were Somalia, Liberia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ivory Coast. There have been 21 major outbreaks during that period. Both UNICEF and WHO state it is imperative to get vaccination drives back on track.
PIDS member Alexandra Yonts commented, “The sudden increase in vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, in many countries across the world is unfortunately not surprising in the wake of the global pause in a multitude of non-COVID related public health programs during the pandemic. Though vaccine programs in much of the developing world were initially put on hold in early-to-mid 2020, susceptible children likely continued to remain protected from other highly transmissible infections for several months due to ongoing non-pharmacological measures against COVID-19, including masking, physical distancing and stricter illness protocols in places like schools and daycare centers. These protective measures have subsequently been removed in much of the world as the pandemic has evolved, exposing unvaccinated children to otherwise preventable illnesses. If immunization rates remain below the level required for herd immunity, which is around 90% for measles as an example, we can expect the return of outbreaks. As the experts in children and the infectious diseases that plague them, it is more important now than ever for pediatric infectious disease physicians to regularly assess vaccination status and talk with the parents of our patients, encouraging them to get their children caught up on routine immunizations as needed. We should also consider seizing the opportunity to provide missing vaccines at outpatient appointments other than routine well child check visits and at the time of discharge following an inpatient hospital stay. As is oft quoted in one of my favorite podcasts, This Week in Virology, “never miss an opportunity to vaccinate”.”