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There is now an imminent threat of measles spreading in various regions globally, as the Covid pandemic has led to a steady decline in vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

Measles is one of the most contagious human viruses and is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. However, it requires 95% vaccine coverage to prevent outbreaks among populations.

A record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021 due to hurdles created by the Covid pandemic, the WHO and the CDC said in a joint report.

While measles cases have not yet gone up dramatically compared to previous years, now is the time to act, the WHO’s measles lead, Dr. Patrick O’Connor, told Reuters.

A combination of factors, such as lingering social distancing measures and the cyclical nature of measles, may explain why there has not yet been an explosion of cases despite the widening immunity gaps, but that could change quickly, O’Connor said, pointing out the highly contagious nature of the disease.

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