Millions of Children Are at Risk for Measles as Coronavirus Fears Halt Vaccines

Millions of Children Are at Risk for Measles as Coronavirus Fears Halt Vaccines

“There are virtually no registers for vaccinations in West Africa other than parent-held records,” she said, adding that an entire “birth cohort of infants could miss out on vaccinations altogether with serious consequences.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, measles was already making a resurgence in some places. In 2017, there were 7,585,900 estimated measles cases and 124,000 estimated deaths, according to the World Health Organization. By 2018, the last year for which international figures have been compiled, there were 9,769,400 estimated measles cases and 142,300 related deaths.

In 2019, the United States reported 1,282 measles cases, its highest in more than 25 years. The measles vaccine has been available for more than 50 years.

Countries including Brazil, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are currently fighting outbreaks of measles. Among the countries that have postponed their vaccination programs are Bolivia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Honduras, Lebanon, Nepal, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan and Uzbekistan.

Dr. Kampmann was also concerned about potential outbreaks in wealthier countries in North America and Europe, which do not have national inoculation programs. Because of Covid-19 fears, American pediatric practices are beginning to report significant drops in well-child visits, including those for routine vaccines.

“Even in resource-rich settings there is a danger of measles raising its ugly head in the not-too-distant future,” Dr. Kampmann added, “hence it is even more important to sustain routine immunizations.”

Dr. Melinda Wharton, director of the C.D.C.’s Immunization Services division, said that one upside of current social distancing measures was that if outbreaks of measles occur, transmission might be limited. She said that in recent years, many cases entered the United States from common travel destinations and that the sharp decreases in air travel because of the pandemic might also keep a lid on measles cases.


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