Home / News / Health / The number of measles cases nearly doubled in the year 2022–2023, and the outlook for 2024 is also unfavorable

The number of measles cases nearly doubled in the year 2022–2023, and the outlook for 2024 is also unfavorable

The global incidence of measles increased by 88 percent from 2022 to 2023, nearly doubling from 171,153 to 321,582 cases. Based on the data presented at a recent conference, it is predicted that 2024 will have similar negative conditions. This has led health officials to urge the implementation of new strategies to ensure widespread vaccination coverage worldwide.

Measles has been a persistent challenge for humanity throughout history, and it is one of the most highly transmissible diseases that poses a significant threat to our species. With the introduction of the first successful vaccine in the 1960s and the subsequent release of the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the US less than a decade later, the prospect of eliminating a disease that caused the deaths of around 2 million individuals annually seemed attainable for the first time.

To ensure comprehensive protection, it is advised that all children receive a minimum of two doses of a measles vaccine. Age recommendations differ based on geographical location and a child’s likelihood of being exposed to the disease. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service advises that all children should receive their initial MMR vaccine at the age of 1, and the second dose before starting school at the age of 5.

The measles virus is highly contagious, and any deficiencies in immunization coverage pose a potential risk for an outbreak. “Coverage must be both extensive and evenly distributed to ensure fairness,” stated Dr. Patrick O’Connor of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. O’Connor and co-presenter Professor Hanna Nohynek, from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, recognize the significant advancements made in this century. However, the latest data does raise some concerns.

In addition to the overall rise in cases, there was a threefold increase in the number of countries facing significant measles outbreaks between December 2022 and November 2023. These outbreaks were defined as a continuous occurrence of 20 measles cases per million people in the population.

According to Professor Nohynek, there was a significant number of measles cases in 2019, primarily observed in Africa. According to her explanation, this continent has consistently had the lowest rate of vaccination and has experienced frequent outbreaks of measles.

However, an initial examination of the 2024 data focuses attention on a different region: the WHO European Region. Out of the cases documented this year, 45 percent have taken place in this particular region, which encompasses a total of 53 countries. Yemen, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan currently have the highest documented rates of measles cases globally.

Dr. O’Connor explained that a detailed assessment of measles eradication in the European Region is scheduled to occur in September of this year. However, in the interim, both experts emphasized the necessity for creative methods to enhance vaccination rates among children in all locations.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant number of children have not received vaccinations, and efforts to administer these missed vaccinations have not yet reached them. “Hence, we are currently witnessing a resurgence of cases in different regions across the globe,” stated Professor Nohynek.

Vaccine hesitancy is a persistent issue that has a particularly strong impact on measles vaccines. The recollections of the fear-mongering surrounding the MMR vaccine and its alleged connection to autism, which were based on fraudulent scientific research that has been extensively discredited, persist vividly in people’s memories – and unfortunately, on the internet.

In 2023, UK authorities declared a national emergency due to a significant surge in measles cases. A total of 41 member states of the WHO European Region reported cases. There are worries that the United States’ achievement of eliminating measles may be in danger.

According to Professor Nohynek, persuading parents who are hesitant about vaccines is just one aspect of the issue. Lower vaccination rates can also be attributed to factors such as false information about vaccines, limited access to immunization services, and delays in getting vaccinated, all of which create gaps in immunization.

It implies that we will likely require a multitude of diverse strategies to address these various aspects concurrently. Professor Nohynek highlighted recent advancements in vaccine administration, such as the needle-free measles-rubella microarray patch. Additionally, she mentioned that some countries are employing disease surveillance to detect and address deficiencies in vaccine distribution.

“In the past two decades,” Dr. O’Connor stated, “there has been substantial advancement in the effort to eliminate measles and rubella. To secure and sustain these achievements, it is crucial to guarantee widespread and fair routine immunization coverage, as well as effective outreach and swift response to outbreaks.”

The data were showcased at the 2024 ESCMID Global Congress.

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