Reported measles cases worldwide reached the highest levels since 1996 last year, according to a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday.
In 2019, 869,770 cases were reported, a significant increase from the 132,490 cases in 2016 according to the WHO and CDC’s report. The disappointing spike comes after an 84 percent decrease in cases between 2000 and 2016.
From 2016 to last year, however, the amount of recorded deaths due to measles increased by 50 percent, the New York Times notes, up to 207,500.
Though there were no reported deaths in the U.S., 1,282 cases were reported last year, the most since 1992. So far in 2020, there have been 12 confirmed cases of the measles.
Public health experts fear that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting vaccine coverage and will affect the amount of reported cases this year.
The anti-coronavirus precautions countries have taken may have inadvertently lowered measles rates, but that effect is only temporary, according to experts. The number of “zero-dose” children, those who have never been vaccinated, has also risen in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines.
Experts attribute the rising number of cases to skepticism around vaccines as well as complacency. Vaccination rates have stagnated for the past decade around the world, the Times reports, enough to ensure fair coverage but not stamping out the virus entirely.
“There was a growing amount of complacency and taking the foot off the gas pedal in some high-coverage countries. We are still missing a large proportion of kids in areas beyond the reach of health services — rural, or in urban slums, or where there is armed conflict,” Dr. Robin Nandy, chief of immunization at UNICEF, told the Times.
This news comes as many world leaders contemplate how they will not only get enough coronavirus vaccine for their population once one is developed, but also how they will encourage people to take it.
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced this week that its vaccine candidate was shown to be 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 trial participants.