- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2019

About 1 in 10 children, or 20 million worldwide, missed out on lifesaving vaccines for infectious diseases such as measles last year, revealing a “dangerous stagnation of global vaccination rates,” two leading global health organizations said.

UNICEF and the U.N. World Health Organization reported that the coverage of one dose of the measles vaccine since 2010 has hovered at 86%, below the 95% epidemiologists say is needed to achieve “herd immunity” and prevent outbreaks within communities.

The report found that the majority of unvaccinated children live in the world’s poorest countries and are disproportionately in “fragile or conflict-affected states” such as Syria, Afghanistan and Congo.

“The main reason that most children miss out on vaccines is due to practical and logistical barriers or a lack of access,” Katherine O’Brien, director of the Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department at WHO, said in an interview. “Stagnation in coverage rates is often due to a lack of investment in the health sector, conflict and poverty.”

Nearly 350,000 measles cases were reported globally last year, almost doubling the number of cases in 2017, the two health organizations reported.

Congo, Ukraine and Madagascar reported the highest number of measles cases last year, WHO said. Congo reported more than 69,000 cases, Ukraine ranked second with more than 53,000 cases and Madagascar exceeded 21,000 cases.

Dr. O’Brien said WHO expects the total number of measles cases this year to be substantially higher than the total for 2018 and that some countries have already surpassed their numbers from last year. Madagascar has reported more than 68,000 cases in the first five months of this year.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it can be devastating for vulnerable children in countries with large outbreaks of infectious diseases. He said sustained outbreaks resulting from problems with health care infrastructure in other countries also represent threats to developed countries, including the United States.

The U.S. is experiencing its largest measles outbreak since 1992. As of July 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,123 measles cases in 28 states, up 14 cases from the previous week.

William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said global immunization rates should be a concern for Americans. Dangerous diseases, he said, are a “plane ride away.”

Travelers to countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines brought measles back to the U.S., he said. Measles then spread among unvaccinated groups of people such as the Orthodox Jewish communities in New York.

If local spread of measles continues into October, then the U.S. could lose its status earned two decades ago for having eliminated measles. That demotion would embarrass the country and could slow global vaccination efforts, Dr. Schaffner said.

He said the outbreaks in the U.S. have dwindled this summer and vaccination efforts have intensified, but infection rates could pick up again in the fall.

Although Ukraine, which topped the list of highest reported measles cases last year, has had low vaccination coverage for several years, it has managed to vaccinate 90% of its infants. Congo has vaccinated 80% of its infants, and Madagascar has vaccinated 62% of infants.

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