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Vaccination Gaps Drive Alarming Global Measles Resurgence

Photo: AFP

Measles cases have been resurging, raising concerns among health authorities in various countries. Recently, an urgent alert was issued after a passenger on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Dublin was diagnosed with measles. The rise in cases is attributed to declining vaccination rates, with fewer countries achieving the recommended 95% vaccination coverage, crucial for disease prevention. In regions like the West Midlands of England, vaccination rates are below the optimal level, hovering around 80%.

Measles is highly contagious and primarily spreads through airborne transmission via coughing or sneezing. Initial symptoms resemble those of a cold, followed by a characteristic rash affecting the face and ears, which then spreads across the body. While most individuals recover within a week, measles can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia, blindness, or meningitis, and can be fatal in some cases. Pregnant women infected with measles are at risk of complications like low birth weight, premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

In 2023, measles cases in the World Health Organization's Europe region skyrocketed to 42,200, marking a significant increase from the 941 cases reported in 2022. Alarmingly, about one-fifth of these cases occurred in individuals over 20 years old. The WHO has called for urgent vaccination efforts to curb transmission and prevent further spread of the disease.

In the UK, efforts to address the measles resurgence include initiatives to vaccinate the large population of unprotected children. As of now, over 3.4 million children under 16 in England lack measles protection. Similar trends have been observed in the United States, which declared measles elimination in 2000 but has witnessed a resurgence due to declining vaccination rates.

Several factors contribute to the decline in measles vaccination rates. Disruption of regular vaccine programs during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in missed vaccinations for some children. Additionally, concerns about the MMR vaccine, which includes a pork derivative, have led to hesitancy in certain Muslim communities. However, alternative vaccines with different ingredients are available.

The publication of a now-debunked study in the late 1990s falsely linking the MMR vaccine to autism has also fueled vaccine hesitancy. Although the study has been discredited and its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, stripped of his medical license, misinformation persists, perpetuated by the anti-vaccine movement.

To combat declining vaccination rates, health authorities emphasize the importance of education and outreach. Engaging with parents to address concerns and provide accurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines is crucial. Vaccination campaigns targeting both children and adults, regardless of age, are essential to prevent the spread of measles and its associated complications.

March 14, 2024 5:56 p.m. 3684

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