15 mn children vaccinated against measles in Ethiopia despite Covid-19

New Delhi (NVI): In an effort by the Ethiopian health authorities to maintain essential health services, over 15 million children in the country have been vaccinated against measles, even as they continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has said.

The vaccination campaign, which ran for 10 days, was initially scheduled for April but was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in July, the WHO said in a statement.

The nationwide campaign was launched under the leadership of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health with support from World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the campaign, the health workers wearing face masks delivered the measles vaccine in open and well-ventilated areas. Other measures such as physical distancing, handwashing and temperature checks were also followed in compliance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

The immunisation drive targeted children aged between 9–59 months, vaccinators were trained on the COVID-19 prevention measures, communities informed of the campaign and vaccination supplies, as well as personal protective equipment and sanitizers, were shipped.

Moreover, the campaign’s target was 15 million children and it attained 96 per cent coverage (14.4 million), showing that even with an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, countries can continue to carry out life-saving mass vaccinations.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said, “By taking the appropriate measures, we can continue to provide essential services while striving to end this pandemic. Millions of children are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and waiting for the end of COVID-19 to restart immunization campaigns is a gamble we cannot afford.

Fewer than 10 of the 47 countries in the WHO African Region are on track to achieve the 2020 measles elimination target of cutting new infections to fewer than one per 1 million population, according to the report.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set the region back even further. Initial data from the first quarter of 2020 indicates that 1.5 million more African children missed the first dose of measles vaccine compared with the same period last year.

Unless vaccination services manage to reach these children in the coming months, the decline adds a significant number of susceptible infants and young children to the existing pool of unvaccinated children across the region, posing huge risks for measles outbreaks, WHO said.

The organization further informed that unless vaccination services manage to reach these children in the coming months, the decline adds a significant number of susceptible infants and young children.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and one of the leading causes of death among young children globally despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

An estimated 52,600 people died from measles in 2018 in the region, mostly children under the age of five, as per the WHO report.

However, outbreak of measles remain a risk in all African countries where the routine immunization coverage remains below 95 per cent.

WHO has also issued guidance on the importance of maintaining safe immunization services. It provides advice on the criticality of urgent catch-up vaccination when COVID-19 movement restrictions are lifted.

The guidance recommends conducting careful risk assessment before implementing preventive mass vaccination, with attention to appropriate protective measures to avoid COVID-19 transmission.