There is an imminent threat of measles spreading globally, because Covid-19 led to a steady decline in vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease, according to experts.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US public health agency made the warning in a joint report published yesterday.
Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses and is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. However, it requires 95pc vaccine coverage to prevent outbreaks among populations.
A record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021 due to hurdles created by the Covid pandemic, the WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
While measles cases have not yet gone up dramatically compared to previous years, now is the time to act, according to the WHO’s measles lead, Patrick O’Connor.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said yesterday. “It is going to be a very challenging 12 to 24 months trying to mitigate this.”
A combination of factors such as lingering social distancing measures and cyclical nature of measles may explain why there has not yet been an explosion of cases despite the widening immunity gaps.
But that could change quickly, said Mr O’Connor, pointing out the highly contagious nature of the disease.
The WHO has already seen an increase of large disruptive outbreaks since the start of 2022, rising from 19 to almost 30 by September, Mr O’Connor said, adding that he was particularly worried about parts of sub-Saharan Africa.