There is now an “imminent threat” of measles spreading in every region of the world, according to the World Health Organization and the US Public Health Service.
In a joint report, the health organizations said there had been a decline in the number of measles vaccines and less surveillance of the disease during the COVID pandemic.
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses in humans, but is almost completely preventable by vaccination, although it requires 95% vaccination coverage to prevent outbreaks.
A record of nearly 40 million children missed a dose last year due to hurdles created by the pandemic, according to the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
This has made millions of children susceptible to the disease.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Patrick O’Connor, WHO’s measles chief.
“It’s going to be a very challenging 12-24 months to mitigate this.”
While the number of cases has not yet risen significantly compared to previous years, now is the time to take action, he said.
Continued social distancing measures and the cyclical nature of measles may explain why there has been no jump in cases, Mr O’Connor said.
However, this may soon change as it is a highly contagious disease.
China announces death from coronavirus for the first time in six months
Fungal infections ‘significantly increased’ during pandemic
Last year there were about nine million measles infections and 128,000 deaths worldwide, officials said.
In February, health officials in England warned that vaccination coverage had risen dropped to the lowest level in ten years.
Measles is normally passed on through direct contact and through the air through coughing and sneezing.
Unvaccinated young children are most at risk for measles and its complications.
It can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and immune system damage, making children more susceptible to other infections.
Measles causes symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and a rash on the face and upper neck and can sometimes be fatal.
More than 95% of deaths occur in developing countries, mainly in Africa and Asia.
There is no specific treatment for measles, but the two-dose vaccine is about 97% effective in preventing serious illness and death.