PAHO calls for renewed surveillance and increased vaccination efforts as measles cases rise globally

Measles vaccination

Washington, DC, January 30, 2024 (PAHO)- The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) published an epidemiological alert urging countries to intensify vaccination activities, epidemiological surveillance, and rapid response preparedness for possible measles outbreaks in the region, given the increase in cases worldwide and the detection of imported cases in early 2024 in the Americas.

Measles, a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that spreads through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, can bring serious complications such as blindness, pneumonia or encephalitis, and even lead to death. Vaccination is the most effective measure to prevent measles infection and spread.

After years of decline in vaccination coverage, measle cases increased globally by 18% in 2022 and 64% in 2023, compared to previous years.

In the region, PAHO had already warned in 2023 of a decline in coverage for first and second doses of the measles vaccine, and of the occurrence of cases in countries of the Americas. In 2023, regional coverage for the first dose of the vaccine against the disease (known as MMR) was 85%, below the ideal coverage percentage recommended by WHO of at least 95%.

In the epidemiological alert, the Organization calls for vigilance in the face of potential suspected and/or confirmed cases of measles or rubella, which could be imported from other regions of the world and generate outbreaks of varying magnitude in countries of the Americas. In 2023, 14,884 suspected cases and 53 confirmed cases of measles were reported in the region, while some countries have already reported confirmed cases so far this year.

PAHO also recommends intensified vaccination activities and epidemiological surveillance in high-risk areas, as well as rapid response to suspected cases to prevent the re-establishment of endemic measles transmission in the Americas.

The alert also includes a series of recommendations for travelers, offering advice that countries can share on actions to take before, during and after travel.