Measles deaths across the globe nearly doubled last year, according to new data released Friday by leading health agencies Thursday. The 43% spike is attributed to a dramatic decrease in vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time, immunization levels dropped to their lowest in 15 years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the report. Last year alone, nearly 33 million children missed a vaccine dose, continuing the trend.
“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,” John Vertefeuille, director of the CDC’s Global Immunization Division, said in a statement.
The highly contagious disease infected 9 million children in 2022 – a 20% increase from 2021 – killing 136,000 with epidemics raging in 14 more countries than the previous year.
Two doses of the measles vaccine work well to protect children in developing countries, yet immunization rates are at about 66%, “a rate that shows no recovery at all from the backsliding during the pandemic,” Vertefeuille added.
Rising rates of measles and other diseases led WHO to launch an immunization recovery plan in April that will amp up vaccination education programs across the globe, especially in richer countries like the United Kingdom.
US nearly loses its measles-free status: A ‘mortifying’ effect of the anti-vaxx movement
A look at measles deaths worldwide
The estimated number of measles deaths worldwide shot up after the pandemic, increasing more than 40% between 2021 and 2022, according to WHO.
Measles data in the US
According to CDC data, U.S. measles cases more than doubled between 2022 and 2021, increasing from 49 to 121 reports. So far, there have been 41 cases reported this year.
From 2019 through 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, 1,287 cases were reported in 31 states. That’s the largest number of cases since 1992, mostly among the unvaccinated and consistent with the global trend.
The last reported measles-related death in the U.S. was in 2015 when a Washington resident, exposed to measles at a medical facility, developed a rash and later died of pneumonia. Before that, there had not been a death in 12 years, USA TODAY previously reported.
Illinois: State reports first case of measles in 4 years
Measles vaccination data in the US
Measles vaccination rates are still hanging around 90% in the U.S. In 2022, about 93% of U.S. kindergarteners had received state-required vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), according to CDC data from November.
Vaccination rates vary by state, however. Here’s how that breaks down.
Early measles signs
The CDC says measles can be very dangerous, especially for babies and young children. Here’s how symptoms typically begin:
What about flu vaccinations in the US?
Meanwhile the flu season is in full effect. As with measles, vaccination is vital to protect communities and avoid burdening already overtaxed health care systems.
Last season, people vaccinated against the flu were about 40 to 70% less likely to be hospitalized because of flu illness or related complications, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.
Among kids younger than 18, the rate of flu vaccination was roughly 55% as of April 2023, down from 62% at the start of the pandemic.
Emily Deletter contributed to this reporting.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Measles deaths spike 43% globally in just one year, CDC reports