Measles campaigns suspended in most countries; 140 million lives at stake, mostly children

In many countries the regular measles vaccine campaigns are delayed by over a year due to the pandemic disruptions  

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 27 April 2021

As countries observe the World Immunization Week 2021 (April 24-30), there is disturbing news of irreversible discontinuation of life-saving immunisation campaigns endangering lives of millions of children pouring out.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, rang the alarm bells:

The pandemic has made a bad situation worse, causing millions more children to go unimmunized.

According to latest data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 lifesaving campaigns — including mass immunisations — have been postponed in 50 countries. This puts around 228 million people, dominantly children, at immediate risk of diseases like measles, yellow fever and polio. “Over half of the 50 affected countries are in Africa, highlighting protracted inequities in people’s access to critical immunization services,” WHO said.

Disruption in immunisation for measles, one of the most contagious diseases, is a cause of concern. This is because there have been large outbreaks of this disease in the unvaccinated population. Of the 60 lifesaving campaigns that have been postponed, measles account for 23 of them.

In November 2020, WHO researchers estimated that more than 207,000 people died from measles in 2019. This was the highest figure in 23 years.

In recent months, there have been major measles outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Yemen. WHO forecasts that there would be similar outbreaks in other countries as well due to slowing down or cessation of immunisation.

Add to it the supply disruption further curtailing availability of vaccines to the targeted population groups. In 2020, UNICEF delivered 2.01 billion vaccine doses, in comparison to 2.29 billion in 2019.

Currently, the delayed campaigns in measles immunisation would impact 140 million people. Regular campaigns have already been delayed by a year. “We have no time to waste. Lost ground means lost lives,” said Fore.

Inequality in access to vaccines has been a nagging challenge. “Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight against preventable child illness, with 20 million children already missing out on critical vaccinations,” Fore added.


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