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Over 117 million children at risk of missing out on measles vaccine due to pandemic

Vaccination campaigns have been postponed in 24 countries to help prevent further spread of Covid-19.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/REDPIXEL.PL

MORE THAN 117 million children are at risk of missing out on measles vaccines globally due to the Covid-19 pandemic, experts have warned.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) – which comprises the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in US, Unicef, the UN Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO) – said over 117 million children in 37 countries may not receive the measles vaccine.

Vaccination campaigns have been paused or postponed in 24 countries to help prevent further spread of Covid-19. Campaigns expected to take place later this year in an additional 13 countries may also not be implemented.

In a statement released today, the group said the pandemic “requires a coordinated effort and commitment of resources to ensure frontline health workers around the world are protected, as they face and respond to this new threat”.

“At the same time, we must also champion efforts to protect essential immunization services, now and for the future,” it added.

The WHO has issued new guidelines to help countries to sustain immunisation activities during the pandemic.

The guidelines recommend that governments temporarily pause preventive immunisation campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.

The M&RI has urged countries “to continue routine immunisation services, while ensuring the safety of communities and health workers”.

140,000 preventable deaths

The recommendations ask governments to undertake a risk-benefit analysis when deciding whether or not 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.

“While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of Covid-19, delivering all immunisation services, including measles vaccines, is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases,” the statement notes.

The M&RI said it supports the need to protect communities and health workers from Covid-19 through pausing mass campaigns, but added: “This should not mean that children permanently miss out.”

The group called for “urgent efforts” to be taken at local, national, regional and global levels to “prepare to close the immunity gaps that the measles virus will exploit”.

The measles vaccine has been available for over 50 years but uptake levels have varied over the years – partially due to the spread of misinformation about the vaccine.

Measles cases have surged globally in recent years and claimed more than 140,000 lives in 2018, mostly children and babies, all of which was preventable.

Experts have previously said Ireland is at risk of losing its measles-free status after an increase in cases here.

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Órla Ryan

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