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COVID-19 puts more than 117 million children at risk of missing out on measles vaccines

Published on 15/04/20 at 11:35am
Photo by Military Health System

Measles immunisation campaigns in 24 countries have been delayed due to COVID-19, threatening the vaccinations of 117 million Children.

The World Health Organization has issued new guidelines to help countries attempt to sustain vaccination levels. It recommends that governments put a temporary pause on preventative immunisation campaigns where there is no active outbreak of measles.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative has endorsed the WHO’s advice and also released their own advice, saying: “We also urge countries to continue routine immunization services, while ensuring the safety of communities and health workers. The recommendations also 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.”

COVID-19 may also completely stop vaccination campaigns in a further 13 countries. In 2018, over 140,000 people died from measles, with most of the fatalities being children under 5 years old.

Anti-vaccination movements have been held responsible for many of these deaths and this has led to several countries lost their measles elimination status in 2018. This included the UK, Albania, the Czech Republic and Greece, while the US has been reporting its highest number of cases for 25 years.

Anti-vaccine movements have been around for centuries but the modern incarnation has its roots in the 1990s. A study by Andrew Wakefield, now widely debunked, said there was a link between vaccines and ‘contracting’ autism. 

In order to stop measles spreading, 95% of children need to get the two doses of the vaccine. But the figures have hovered around 86% for the first jab, and 69% for the second. Aside from anti-vaxx campaigns, poverty and war have led to countries like Liberia, Somalia, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo being the worst affected by measles outbreaks.

Conor Kavanagh

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