As vaccination coverage declines, PAHO warns of potential measles outbreaks

9 Feb 2023
Measles vaccination

The Organization recommends that countries of the Americas update plans to quickly respond to outbreaks, intensify vaccination efforts and strengthen surveillance 

Washington, DC, 9 February 2023 (PAHO)- The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued an alert, urging countries of the Americas to update their response plans to prevent the re-establishment of endemic transmission of measles virus. This follows a reduction in childhood vaccination coverage, increasing the possibility for outbreaks of this disease.

“Vaccination and epidemiological surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases are essential health services and should not be interrupted,” highlights PAHO in the alert, published yesterday.

According to the Organization’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on vaccines, the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the region is at its highest point in the last 30 years. PAHO estimates that in 2021 more than 1.7 million children in 28 countries and territories of the Americas did not receive an initial dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday.

In 2021, regional coverage for the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) was 85%. Only six countries reached the recommended level of 95% or more needed to sustain elimination of these diseases, and ten countries reported coverage of less than 80%.

Measles is a serious and highly contagious virus, for which safe and effective vaccines are available. Between 2000 and 2018, the measles vaccine prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths worldwide.

The Americas was declared measles-free in 2016. However, as the virus continues to circulate in other parts of the world, countries of the region reported an increase in imported cases between 2017 and 2019, with the most significant outbreaks occurring in Brazil, where endemic circulation continues, and Venezuela.

Since then, confirmed cases declined and in 2022, thanks to the social distancing measures imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, only six countries in the region reported imported cases of measles: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Paraguay and the United States.

PAHO recommends that parents, guardians, or caregivers ensure their children receive two doses of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines to prevent outbreaks and to protect them against serious complications such as pneumonia, which can be fatal for infants and children.