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More than 117 million children at risk of missing measles vaccines

FILE PHOTO: Measles vaccine

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally with positive cases going to the highs of 1.9 million people, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine as measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed.

Among the countries that have delayed campaigns include DR Congo where the disease has killed more than 6000 people, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan , Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

According to a statement released by UNICEF this morning, more will be postponed even as 13 countries are planning to carry out campaigns later this year.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new guidelines endorsed by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization — to help countries to sustain immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines recommend that governments temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease,”reads the statement in part.

While Measles and Rubella initiative which is a consortium of organizations including the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that came up with the joint statement supports this halt as a way of intercepting further transmission of the viral disease, they urge countries to continue routine immunization services while ensuring the safety of communities and health workers. In their recommendations, they ask governments to undertake a careful risk-benefit analysis when deciding whether to delay vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks with the possibility of postponement where risks of COVID-19 transmission are deemed unacceptably high.

“If the difficult choice to pause vaccination is made due to the spread of COVID-19, we urge leaders to intensify efforts to track unvaccinated children so that the most vulnerable populations can be provided with measles vaccines as soon as it becomes possible to do so,” they note that children should not permanently miss out because of the pandemic. However, measles cases have in recent years been on surge to the extent that some countries like Uganda have had to do mass measles and Rubella campaigns.

In 2018 alone, World Health Organization figures show measles claimed 140,000 lives mostly children and babies. Against this already dangerous backdrop with deaths that should have been prevented, responsive measles vaccination campaigns have now been paused or postponed in 24 countries to help avert further spread of COVID-19.

The Measles and Rubella Initiative says children younger than 12 months of age will be more likely to die from measles complications, and if the circulation of measles virus is not stopped, their risk of exposure to measles will increase daily. Currently, countries like DRC, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil are battling fresh measles outbreaks.

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