In a joint report today, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said amid ongoing declines in measles vaccination, cases in 2022 rose by 18%, and deaths were up 43% globally compared to 2021.
The groups detailed their findings in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Last year, 37 countries reported large or disruptive outbreaks, up from 22 in 2021. The African region was hit hardest, with 28 outbreaks, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean (6), South East Asia (2), and European regions (1).
The researchers also saw coverage gaps of the vaccine, which is given as a two-dose series. Though global vaccine coverage was up modestly between 2021 and 2022, 33 million kids missed a measles vaccine dose, including 22 million who didn't get their first dose and 11 million who never received their second shot. Global coverage rates are still below the 95% two-dose goal needed to protect communities from outbreaks.
Measles deaths were highest in low-income countries, where coverage rates were lower, with no sign of recovery after the pandemic. Of 22 million who missed their second measles vaccine dose last year, more than half were from just 10 countries: Angola, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
In a CDC press release, Kate O'Brien, MD, the WHO's director for immunization, vaccines, and biologicals, said the report's findings are an alarm bell for action. "Measles is called the inequity virus for good reason. It is the disease that will find and attack those who aren’t protected," she said.
In a statement, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said the findings reiterate the ongoing need to speed and support recovery following the pandemic. Aurelia Nguyen, Gavi's chief program officer, said filling coverage gaps was a challenge even before the pandemic. "And with cases, outbreaks and preventable deaths rising so sharply due to increased immunity gaps related to the pandemic, it shows how even more important it is that our Alliance provides an unprecedented level of support to countries in 2024," she said.