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UK Fighting against Covid-19

UK To Roll Out Additional Covid-19 Vaccines For Vulnerable People And Elderly 

The UK announced this week that it will be rolling out an additional Covid-19 vaccine for the elderly and clinically vulnerable populations. Adults over the age of 75, nursing home residents, and anyone who’s immunocompromised will be given an extra dose of a Covid vaccine in the spring. 

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said the rollout is a part of a “precautionary strategy for 2022,” adding that individuals over the age of 18 will be offered Pfizer/BioNTech or the Modernas vaccine for the spring dose, while 12 to 18-year-olds will be given Pfizer/BioNTech exclusively. 

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“An extra booster shot will be given 6 months after an eligible individual’s most recent dose. For older people in the U.K., this will be the fourth vaccine dose they have been offered. For people with a severely weakened immune system, it will be the fifth vaccine shot they have been offered. The bulk of the population has been offered three shots, two vaccinations and one booster,”  the JCVI said.

“There remains considerable uncertainty with regards to the likelihood, timing and severity of any potential future wave of Covid-19 in the U.K.”

“There may be a transition period of a few years before a stable pattern, such as a regular seasonal wave of infection, is established,” the JCVI said.

A majority of the UK’s oldest, and most vulnerable, adults received their most recent Covid vaccine in September or October. The JCVI noted that “the immunity this group gained through their booster shot may wane substantially before the fall, when we plan to roll out a wider booster program.” 

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Details on the fall program have not been published yet. 85% of those aged 12 and older in the eligible population of UK residents have received their two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and two-thirds of that group has received a booster shot.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also preparing to announce and end to all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, a move which many medical professionals have criticized. 

Most of England’s Covid restrictions have already been lifted. The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus is one of the few requirements still in place. 

Johnson is also planning to announce that access to free Covid tests will be scaled back, even though the nation recorded 25,696 new cases this Sunday alone. About 508 individuals per 100,000 people are currently infected with Covid-19 in England. 

“Thanks to our COVID-19 vaccination rollout, we are already the freest country in Europe. It has saved countless lives, reduced pressure on the National Health Service, and is allowing us to learn to live with the virus,”  U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement on Monday.

Austria Lifts Lockdown For Unvaccinated Individuals As Europe Pulls Back On Covid Restrictions  

Countries throughout Europe have been easing up on Covid-19 restrictions as hospital admissions have begun to level out. Austria has lifted the lockdown that was in place for unvaccinated individuals while Switzerland is preparing for a “turbo” reopening of public spaces. 

The Danish government declared that Covid-19 “should no longer be categorized as a socially critical disease after January 31st.” The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and France have all begun taking steps to ease up on restrictions and return to some sense of normalcy. 

While the Omicron variant is continuing to cause cases to rise in Europe, hospital and intensive care admissions have not been surging in line with new cases, meaning most individuals who are getting it are likely vaccinated and protected from severe disease. 

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Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that from “next Saturday, shops and restaurants would be able to stay open until midnight and the maximum number of people able to participate in events will rise from 25 to 50.”

The nation also has become the first EU member state to make vaccination legally compulsory for adults. Under this law, individuals who refuse to get their inoculations are liable for fines up to €3,600.

Unvaccinated individuals in Austria can now leave their houses, but are barred from eating in restaurants or shopping for non-essential items as the government continues to try to increase western Europe’s vaccination rates; where the rates are currently lowest. 

In Switzerland, experts who studied both Swiss and German infection rates said “Omicron was significantly more infectious, but seemingly less severe, than the Delta variant and was unlikely to cause record numbers of admissions to ICUs.”

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Around 40% of Swiss companies have previously reported major staff shortages. Alain Berset, the Swiss health minister, has now called for remaining restrictions to be lifted by mid-February as a means of “turbo reopening” the economy. 

Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner, also said “the government should be laying the foundations for a smooth return to normal, even though the peak of the Omicron wave may still be several weeks away, business requires a planning horizon.”

Germany initially had the goal of getting 80% of its population vaccinated by the end of January, and currently have 75.8% of the population vaccinated. This puts Germany behind other larger countries such as Italy, France, and Spain. 

The World Health Organization has said it is “plausible that the Omicron variant, which seems to cause less severe symptoms in the fully vaccinated, may signal the pandemic’s transition towards a more manageable phase and eventual endgame, but the situation remains unpredictable.”

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Starbucks Scrapes Vaccine Mandate After Supreme Court Ruling

A week after a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling temporarily stopped President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccine mandate — which required companies of over 100 workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly — Starbucks is suspending their COVID-19 vaccine or test requirement, they informed employees in a memo sent Tuesday.

Starbucks, which has over 15,000 locations in the U.S., told their 228,000 workers on Jan. 3 that they would need to either be fully vaccinated by Feb. 9, or accept weekly testing. The employees had to disclose their vaccination status by Jan. 10.

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“This is an important step we can take to help more partners get vaccinated, limit the spread of Covid-19, and create choices that partners can own based on what’s best for them,” Starbucks CEO John Culver said at the time.

While Culver said in the memo they respect and will comply with the ruling, he also expressed the desire to continue believing in the purpose of the mandate, while urging employees to keep getting shots and boosted against the virus.

“I want to emphasize that we continue to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate. Thank you to the more than 90 percent of partners who have already disclosed their vaccination status, and to the vast majority who are now fully vaccinated.”

The New York Post noted that Starbucks is still requiring employees to wear surgical masks instead of cloth masks. The company — which brought in a 2021 third quarter revenue of $8.15 billion — previously tried to incentivize vaccinations by offering two paid hours off for every dosage received.

General Electric, which has over 170,000 workers, has also suspended their vaccine and testing rules. Like Starbucks, GE encouraged their workers to get vaccinated. Eyes will now turn to see if other major businesses, such Target (409,000 workers) will opt to pull back or suspend their policies in place.

It’s already clear some will not be following the ruling, however. Bankers Citigroup and Goldman Sachs told Forbes they would continue their mandates, while Wells Fargo would continue its testing program as part of its vaccine or test mandate. Meanwhile, Carhartt — which employs over 5,000 — faced both support and backlash for intending to carry on with their vaccination policy.

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Due to the surging omicron variant, the coffee giant has had to reduce employee hours while experiencing supply shortages and sick workers. Other restaurant companies are dealing with the same – McDonald’s cut store hours by 10% on average at 40,000 locations.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), just 36% of U.S. workers are required to be vaccinated by their employer. That number has increased from 5% in May 2021. Meanwhile, 43% of workers say their companies are encouraging vaccinations, down from 66% in May and 55% in August.

Despite the low number of total workers required to be vaccinated, Forbes noted that, somewhat surprisingly, 56% of the 2,200 respondents to a Morning Consult poll said they believe employers should require mandates. Meanwhile, 33% disagreed. Across the U.S., 63% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 75.7% have received at least one vaccine dose and 24.8% have received a booster.

For Starbucks, a vaccine mandate isn’t their only worry. Workers in Buffalo were successful in two out of three union elections, becoming the first unionized Starbucks locations in the U.S. Others in major cities like Seattle, Boston, and Chicago are organizing to follow suit.

Omicron Could Infect 50% Of Europeans Within Next Two Months

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that a west-to-east “tidal wave” of new Omicron infections could infect more than half of Europe’s population within the next two months. The WHO stated that the wave of infections could potentially shut down multiple health systems across Europe which would leave more individuals at risk for infection. 

The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, said that the region has already recorded more than 7 million new cases of Covid within the first week of 2022, which is two-times the amount of infections when compared to two weeks ago. More than 1% of the European population is catching Covid each week within 29 countries, according to WHO’s data. 

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Kluge also explained how the Omicron variant has been reported in 50 out of Europe’s 53 states, and was becoming the dominant strain in western Europe.

“At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks. We’re deeply concerned, as we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” Kluge explained. 

Kluge explained that Omicron cases have specifically “exploded” in Denmark, where the current Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients is six times higher than for those who are fully vaccinated. 

“While vaccines provide good protection against severe disease and death, rising hospital admissions are still challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries … and threaten to overwhelm them in many more.”

The WHO warned that countries in Europe that have yet to be impacted by Omicron have a small window of time to protect themselves and their most vulnerable citizens. 

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Kluge explained how every country’s government should be mandating high-quality masks in every closed and indoor space, as well as ensuring individuals have their full vaccine series and booster doses when applicable. 

“Where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.”

“This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary course and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed, crowded spaces, and offering the possibility to work remotely wherever possible until the infection surge passes,” Kluge said.

He continued to explain how PCR testing should be prioritized for critical workers and individuals more at risk for severe disease, and rapid tests should be sent out at a larger rate. 

Keeping schools open had “important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational wellbeing, so we’re urging governments to review protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning,” Kluge explained.

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Hawaii Likely To Tighten Travel Restrictions In 2022

Covid-19 cases are once again on the rise in the US due to the highly contagious Omicron variant and lack of vaccination throughout the nation. Restrictions on inbound international travel have already begun to tighten, as travelers need to show proof that they’re fully vaccinated with a negative test result that’s no more than one day old. 

The state of Hawaii already has limited on-island medical centers and resources, so they’re considering strengthening their own requirements for those arriving to the islands. Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green is pushing for tighter travel restrictions to be implemented in the near future. 

“The recommendation should be that you’re either boosted or tested, real straightforward, and I think that will come in the New Year.”

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Throughout the entire pandemic Hawaii has implemented some of the strictest interstate entry requirements. 

After Hawaii launched its Safe Travels program, the state was met with a large number of tourists who were looking to escape to the islands. Governor David Ige responded to this uptick in travel by pleading with visitors to delay their visits so the hospitality industry could recover from the past summer. 

With the sudden and rapid increase in Omicron infections, Hawaii-bound travelers may find themselves facing stricter restrictions in the coming weeks. 

According to Jessica Lani Rich at the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH), there’s been an “increase in calls coming in from visitors who test positive while they’re already in the destination. The new CDC guidance has encouraged some such infected vacationers to ride out their on-island isolation period and then salvage the remainder of their trip, rather than just returning home.”

“The majority of our visitors do not have the funds to spend an extra two weeks during the holidays and so, for those visitors, they are happy that the CDC has changed the rules,” she told local KITV4 News.

New York Implements New Vaccine Mandates As Omicron Continues To Spread 

As the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to spread throughout the US, New York is taking action after becoming the first hub of breakout cases and surges. New York City in particular has implemented their latest vaccine mandate for private businesses to go into effect this week. 

New York state broke a single-day record for new cases with nearly 50,000 new infections being reported on Christmas Eve. Governor Kathy Hochul released data and a statement regarding the new cases and vaccine mandate. 

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“As we come home from holiday gatherings, it is as important as ever to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 this season. The vaccine is the best tool we have to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe as we head into the new year.”

The newest mandate requires workers to have at least one vaccine dose by Monday, employees will no longer be able to opt out of vaccination requirements with weekly testing. Children between the ages of 5-11 are now required to show proof of at least one vaccination before having access to indoor dining, fitness or entertainment, and adults will be required to show proof of two vaccinations for those areas. 

“We need to take very bold action. We’re seeing restrictions starting to come back. We’re seeing shutdowns. We can not let those restrictions come back. We can not have shutdowns in New York,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working to ease staffing shortages throughout the nation’s healthcare facilities. Workers in healthcare are able to return to work after testing positive after seven days of isolation if they’re asymptomatic and test negative. 

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The agency also specified that “health care workers don’t need to quarantine “following high-risk exposures if they’ve gotten all recommended vaccinations, including a booster shot. Quarantine refers to when people who have been exposed to the virus but have not yet been diagnosed with an infection need to avoid others. These new guidelines don’t extend to the general public and only apply to the healthcare workforce.”

About 74% of all ICU beds in the nation are being used while 21% of them are occupied by Covid-19 patients. Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke on Sunday and discussed how the Omicron variant poses a big threat to the healthcare system in America. 

“Even though we’re pleased by the evidence from multiple countries that it looks like there is a lesser degree of severity, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t get complacent about that because it might still lead to a lot of hospitalizations in the United States,” he explained. 

“We’re particularly worried about those who are in that unvaccinated class, that you know, tens and tens of millions of Americans who are eligible for vaccination who have not been vaccinated, those are the vulnerable ones when you have a virus that is extraordinarily effective in getting to people and affecting them the way Omicron is.”

Around 72.7% of the US population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 61.7% are fully vaccinated with two doses. 31.5% have already received their booster shots as well. 

US Reaches 800,000 Covid-19 Deaths Due To Delta Variant And Unvaccinated Population 

This Sunday, the United States surpassed 800,000 Covid-19 related deaths according to Reuters. The nation is currently gearing up for another surge of infections due to the approaching winter months and highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. 

According to Reuters, the US death toll has now exceeded the entire population of North Dakota, and as a nation we lost more individuals in 2021 from the virus than in 2020 due to the highly contagious Delta variant and amount of people still refusing to get inoculated against Covid-19. 

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Since the beginning of the year over 450,000 Americans have died after contracting Covid-19, accounting for 57% of the deaths that have occurred in the US since the start of the pandemic. 

Health experts stated that a majority of the deaths this year were among unvaccinated patients. Many advancements have been made in the way healthcare professionals can care for Covid patients, including monoclonal antibodies, however, getting vaccinated is the main way to protect yourself from this virus.

According to Reuters, it took 111 days for the US to get from 600,000 to 700,000 deaths, and the next 100,000 deaths took just 73 days. “Among the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations, the United States ranks the worst in terms of per capita deaths from COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30,” according to the Reuters analysis.

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The United States has the highest number of reported total Covid-19 deaths in the world, followed by Brazil and India. The US accounts for 4% of the world’s population, and 14% of all reported Covid-19 deaths, and 19% of cases worldwide. The nation is also projected to surpass 50 million cases within the next month. 

Scientists are continuing to study the new Omicron variant and whether or not vaccines could provide adequate protection against it. Currently, the Delta variant remains the most dominant version of the virus in the US. 

Around 60% of the US population has now been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data from the CDC. The new variant has also motivated many vaccinated individuals to schedule their booster appointments once they are eligible. 

“We must act together in this moment to address the impact of the current cases we are seeing, which are largely Delta, and to prepare ourselves for the possibility of more Omicron,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing on Tuesday.

Experts Warn Omicron Covid Variant Is A ‘Reason To Be Worried’

The Omicron Covid-19 variant was first detected in South Africa, and has now spread to 14 countries, with some experts claiming the variant has already reached the US. Scientists are working to figure out how much more dangerous and contagious the new variant is when compared to other variants, especially as international governments race to ease travel restrictions. 

The US has been imposing travel restrictions on travelers from South Africa since Monday, as well as other countries around the region. The variant has already been confirmed in Canada, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, discussed the variant on the news recently. 

“The new variant is likely already in the United States, but the government is better positioned to detect cases of the new strain than it was a year ago.”

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As of this week, most travelers from southern Africa are barred from entering the United States, and restrictions have been renewed for all travel from southern Africa to most European countries. Within 36 hours of discovering the new strain, scientists in South Africa alerted the world and began testing current vaccines against the strain immediately. Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed the increased risk for unvaccinated Americans when it comes to any variant. 

“The US certainly has the potential to go into a fifth wave of high infections if enough people don’t come forward for vaccination and booster shots.”

South Africa’s government and president, however, are worried that the region is being unjustly blamed for the new variant, when the reality is these variants only have the opportunity to develop due to uneven distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines throughout the world. 

“We want all travel bans to be reversed, as they have no basis in science. These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country,” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said. 

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“I think there’s good reason to be worried. I don’t think that means that we’re powerless, answers are coming. We need to collect data. We need to investigate and understand this variant,” said Professor Anne Van Gottberg of South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“We should be doing the things that we know work when you’re dealing with a pandemic virus. It’s not the time to panic. We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work,” Dr. Fauci said.

Fauci explained that “the concern over the new variant comes from the number and type of mutations found around the spike protein, the part of the virus molecule that allows it to attach itself to human cells. The high number of mutations and where they were found suggests that this would be more transmissible, and also suggests that it might evade some of the immune parameters that we have, such as antibody and plasma treatments, and the current vaccines.”

“It appears to be spreading very readily and has a transmission advantage. One of the key things we don’t know right now is whether the new variant causes more severe COVID-19 symptoms than previous strains.”

Omicron currently accounts for more than 2,000 new daily cases in South Africa. One expert in the nation is worried that the daily infection rate could triple within the next week alone. 

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” Dr Salim Abdool Karim said during an online press briefing by the Health Ministry.

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate For 100 Million Workers Officially Being Enforced

Back in September President Biden announced that he would be working on creating multiple vaccine mandates to get more Americans vaccinated. On Thursday, the administration started the process by releasing mandates for over 100 million workers. 

The first rule has been issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and covers mandates for companies with 100 or more employees; it’s estimated this rule will apply to 84 million workers. Companies need to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by January 4th, or they will need to provide a negative test in order to come into work every week. 

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OSHA’s rule also requires employers to pay their employees for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated, and recover from any potential side effects that arise. 

Employers also won’t be required to pay for weekly testing for their unvaccinated employees, or even provide the testing in the first place. This is in an attempt to get more employees to actually receive their vaccines as opposed to remaining at higher risk for exposure. 

Unvaccinated workers will also be required to wear face coverings at all times; this rule will be enforced starting December 6th. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are requiring around 17 million health care workers to be vaccinated by January 4th. However, healthcare workers won’t be given the option to decline being vaccinated to opt for weekly testing. 

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Some employers are worried that the deadlines OSHA provided won’t give some of them enough time to gather the information required to find out who’s already vaccinated and who’s not. However, the Biden Administration asserted their authority in issuing these mandates due to OSHA’s responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for all employees. 

“A virus that has killed more than 745,000 Americans, with more than 70,000 new cases per day currently, is clearly a health hazard that poses a grave danger to workers,” said a senior administration official.

Companies will mainly be responsible for enforcing the OSHA rule, as there’s only a couple thousand state and federal OSHA inspectors nationwide. It’s expected that OSHA inspectors will more likely be responding to employee complaints regarding their employers or fellow workers who aren’t abiding by the mandates. 

Employers that violate the rule can face fines up to $13,000 per violation, and depending on how severe the violation is that fine could multiply by ten.

WHO, CDC Warn Measles Outbreak Possible After 22 Million Infants Miss Their Vaccines

A study published by the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows the possibility of a global measles outbreak has increased after 22 million infants missed their vaccinations because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 3 million more than in 2019.

Two-thirds of the infants are located in just ten countries, which include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Ethiopia.

According to the World Health Organization, measles are the world’s most contagious virus, but also the most “entirely preventable,” with the vaccine having averted more than 30 million deaths over the last 20 years.

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After a global measles resurgence from 2017-2019, the disease saw a drop in 2020 due to the pandemic. In the U.S., just 13 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 2020, down from 1,282 reported cases in 2019. However, the CDC notes that despite the decline, millions of children were more susceptible to measles at the end of 2020 than they were at the end of 2019.

There were a number of possible causes for the measles decline in 2020, one of them being lower transmission rates — thanks in part to social distancing and quarantining — and increased immunity. However, a more likely culprit is the underreporting of cases after “large and disruptive measles outbreaks in 2020.”

Per the WHO, despite there being a safe and cost-effective measles vaccination, there were 140,000 measles deaths globally in 2018, mostly among children under the age of five. On average, there are around 60,000 measles deaths a year, along with 7.5 million cases.

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The measles vaccine come in two doses, which is critical for it to be successful. The first dose coverage fell in 2020, while only 70% of children received their second vaccine dose, which the WHO explains is far below the 95% coverage needed to protect communities from a measles outbreak.

According to The Hill, the number of specimens sent to the WHO Global Measles and Rubella Laboratory Network hit a low that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. 35 countries did not report rates for the first measles shot, while 50 countries did not report rates for the second measles shot.

In addition to the missed vaccines by infants, 24 measles vaccine supplemental campaigns in 23 countries were postponed due to COVID-19, leaving more than 93 million people at risk for the virus. These campaigns are important because they’re needed where people have missed out on measles-containing vaccines through routine immunization program.

In a statement, WHO Director of Immunization Dr. Kate O’Brien explained we are likely seeing “the calm before the storm” when it comes to a measles outbreak, and stressed the importance of continual vaccination against all diseases.

“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”

Along with the risk of death, measles can also cause swelling, blindness, pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhea, and encephalitis, which can cause swelling of the brain. More basic symptoms include a high fever and rashes.