PAHO Warns of Potential Measles Outbreaks in the Caribbean

At-risk children receive injections to protect them from the measles. (World Health Organization photo)
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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued an alert, urging countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean, to update their response plans to prevent the re-establishment of endemic transmission of the measles virus.

This follows a reduction in childhood vaccination coverage, increasing the possibility for outbreaks of the disease.

“Vaccination and epidemiological surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases are essential health services and should not be interrupted,” the alert stated.

According to PAHO’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, PAHO said regional coverage for the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) was 85 percent.

It said only six countries reached the recommended level of 95 percent or more needed to sustain elimination of these diseases, and ten countries reported coverage of less than 80 percent.

Measles is a serious and highly contagious virus, for which safe and effective vaccines are available.

It said between 2000 and 2018, the measles vaccine prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths worldwide.

The Americas were declared measles-free in 2016. However, as the virus continues to circulate in other parts of the world, PAHO said 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.

CMC

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