16 November 2023 – More children died from measles in 2022 than 2021, according to a new report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data serve as an urgent call to action—placing renewed attention on the importance of life-saving vaccines.
Last year, 136,200 people—most of them children—died from measles. That is why it’s imperative that children everywhere get the necessary two doses of the measles vaccines, which are 97% effective at preventing measles infections for life.
Measles cases are also on the rise; the data show a jump in the number of people with measles, surging from 7 million in 2021 to 9 million in 2022. The increases in both number of deaths and cases reflect the severity of the disruption of routine health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2001, the Measles & Rubella Partnership (M&RP) has worked with countries to vaccinate millions of children, helping to prevent an estimated 57 million deaths. Despite global measles vaccination coverage reaching 83% for the first dose in 2022, progress has not been equitable and the risk of dying from measles is highest in low-income countries where vaccination coverage was only 66% last year. We can and must do more to ensure every child is protected, no matter where they live.
Measles cases anywhere in the world pose a risk to all countries and communities where immunization coverage is below 95%. In 2022, 37 countries were affected by large or disruptive measles outbreaks, nearly double the number of countries in 2021. Because measles outbreaks most often occur in un- or under-vaccinated communities, outbreaks point to weaknesses and inequities in immunization programs and other essential health services. Understanding where and why outbreaks happen can help public health officials deliver tailored solutions to ensure measles and other vaccinations are available to and accessed by all.
The M&RP allies with countries in protecting every child by supporting efforts to reach the 95% coverage goal for first- and second-dose measles vaccinations. This includes accelerated actions to reach unprotected children by conducting preventive vaccination campaigns prior to the start of countries’ high transmission periods and recognizing and addressing immunization gaps resulting from inequity, climate-related crises, migration, and conflict.
“To reverse the worrying increasing trend in measles cases and deaths, countries at high risk need to urgently implement vaccination campaigns while working to strengthen health systems and be ready for rapid outbreak response,” said Dr. Mary Agocs, M&RP co-chair, and director of the Measles & Rubella Partnership at the American Red Cross. “The M&RP stands ready to support countries, working in collaboration to ensure every child receives life-saving vaccines.”
The increase in measles cases and deaths, concentrated in certain countries and regions, underscores the global inequity of access to reliable health care and routine services including immunizations. The M&RP and the countries we work with share a common goal to eliminate measles not just as a target, but as a promise to future generations. By intensifying our focus, working together, and using measles as a tracer for inequity, we can make a significant step towards a world where every child has the chance to survive and thrive, free from the threat of measles and all vaccine-preventable diseases.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
“The concerning surge in measles outbreaks and mortality is a stark reminder of the importance of sustained attention on recovering from the pandemic and ensuring health systems are equipped to reach even the hardest to reach communities. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has played a foundational role in supporting lower-income countries’ measles vaccination efforts since 2000 and we will double down on this commitment in 2024: reinforcing our support to countries for their routine measles and rubella programmes, helping countries launch an unprecedented number of campaigns, supporting outbreak response, and focusing on achieving high coverage rates by reaching zero-dose children and missed communities with the lifesaving power of vaccines.” – Aurélia Nguyen, Chief Programme Officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
American Red Cross
“Red Cross volunteers live and work in the same vulnerable communities where children are becoming ill and dying from measles. Many of these volunteers have seen firsthand just how devastating this disease can be”, says Marian Spivey-Estrada, Principal Deputy and Vice President of International Services at the American Red Cross. “It is our duty as humanitarians to protect these communities and ensure that all children everywhere have a chance to live long healthy lives free of this vaccine preventable disease.”
“A 43 per cent increase in measles deaths, mostly among children, is a devastating reminder of what is at stake when we don’t vaccinate communities against deadly diseases. But it is not too late to stop these numbers from climbing and save lives. We know what it will take to fill the immunity gap and recover from the decline in immunization coverage, and we know what it will cost. The next step is to act.” – Dr. Ephrem Lemango, UNICEF Chief of Immunization
United Nations Foundation
"Before a measles vaccine was available globally, 2.6 million people, mostly children, were dying every year from this deadly disease. We’ve made immense progress since then, and we cannot let it stop now. It is time for public health leaders and communities to recommit to protecting all children from measles." – Lori Sloate, Senior Director of Global Health for the United Nations Foundation
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we’ve seen in the past few years,” said John Vertefeuille, director of CDC’s Global Immunization Division. “Measles cases anywhere pose a risk to all countries and communities where people are under-vaccinated. Urgent, targeted efforts are critical to prevent measles disease and deaths.”
World Health Organization
“The lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries following the pandemic is 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,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “Children everywhere have the right to be protected by the lifesaving measles vaccine, no matter where they live.”