More than half the world’s countries will be at a “high or very high” risk of measles by the end of 2024 unless urgent action is taken by governments to protect children, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned.

Measles has been on the rise across most regions, especially due to a high amount of missed vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic when health systems were overrun with an excessive amount of patients.

Natasha Crowcroft, senior technical adviser on measles and rubella for WHO, said in a press conference in Geneva: “What we are worried about is this year, 2024, we’ve got these big gaps in our immunization programs, and if we don’t fill them really quickly with the vaccine, measles will just jump into that gap.


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“We can see, from data that’s produced with WHO data by the CDC, that more than half of all the countries in the world are going to be at high or very high risk of outbreaks by the end of this year.”

Evidence of rising cases is clear in the US, where Florida recorded its seventh case of the virus on Friday – a child under the age of five. The child is the youngest to be infected in the outbreak and lives in Brownard County, officials said.

Measles, according to the WHO, is a “highly contagious, serious airborne disease caused by a virus that can lead to severe complications and death.”

The disease is common in children, but can seriously affect all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Measles can be extremely dangerous to a certain group of people, including children younger than five years, adults older than 20 years, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems from other diseases like leukemia and HIV infection.

Symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes in the first seven to 14 days after exposure.

Though measles vaccines were introduced in 1963, an estimation of 128,000 people died from measles in 2021, especially children under the age of five, the WHO reported.

According to the WHO, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a setback in providing immunization services, leaving millions of unvaccinated children vulnerable to measles and increasing the likelihood of spreading to communities.

Crowcroft cited data saying that more than 306,000 measles cases were reported globally last year, marking a 79 percent increase from 2022.

She added that deaths increased by 43 percent in 2022, exceeding 130,000 deaths due to the disease.