Over 117 million children at risk of missing measles vaccine

Joy Nwagiriga

Over 117 million children are at risk of missing the measles vaccine due to COVID-19, UN agencies warn. As coronavirus sends many nations into lockdown, children all over the world are in danger of missing life-saving shots.

According to the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and others, measles immunisation campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed and more will be postponed, putting children in 37 countries at risk.

The WHO has recommended that governments temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns, such as those against measles, where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.

The suspension of vaccination campaigns could result in a measles outbreak in the future. The M&RI group stress that the delivery of all immunization services, is essential in saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine preventable diseases.

“Urgent efforts must be taken now at local, national, regional and global levels to prepare to close the immunity gaps that the measles virus will exploit.”

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has already killed over 121,000 people worldwide but a surge in measles outbreaks poses another major global threat. Measles outbreaks can result in epidemics that cause many deaths, especially among young, malnourished children.

The 117 million children at risk doesn’t include the number of infants that may not be vaccinated because of the effect of COVID-19 on routine immunization services.

The WHO said in December that measles had infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, in what they described as “an outrage”.

Children younger than 12-months of age are more likely to die from measles complications. Founded in 2001, the Initiative has helped vaccinate over 2.9 billion children and save over 23.2 million lives.

Before the introduction of measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year, WHO figures show.

“Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases could be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling the impacts of COVID-19, and substantively increase sickness and fatalities,” the WHO said.

The M&RI group “support the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19 through a pause of mass campaigns” but urge that children should not miss out.

Joy Nwagiriga

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