One of the biggest fallouts of the pandemic globally has been the low routine immunisation coverage of children. As per WHO data of November 23, 2022, nearly 40 million children globally had missed a measles vaccine dose last year. As a result, there were an estimated nine million measles cases and 1,28,000 deaths in 2021.
The ongoing measles outbreak in Mumbai, India is a reflection of the lower immunisation coverage due to disruption in vaccination services and hesitancy by parents to get their children vaccinated. As of November 24, there have been 233 measles infections and 13 deaths in Mumbai. As per recent data, 538 confirmed measles cases have been reported in Maharashtra this year, as of October. There have also been increased number of measles cases in other parts of India including Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Kerala.
“It is clear that in all such geographies, the effected children are unvaccinated and the average coverage of MRCV [Measles and Rubella containing vaccine] among the eligible beneficiaries is also significantly below the national average,” the Indian Health Ministry said in a letter dated November 23. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that unvaccinated children have nearly 70% higher mortality risk compared with vaccinated children.
Ironically, even in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic was at the peak in India, measles vaccination coverage in Mumbai was 78%, while in 2022 (till October) when the pandemic has largely been on low burn after the third wave, measles vaccination coverage in the city has been just 41.9%, as per Maharashtra health officials.