Greater Than 117 Million Children at Risk of No Measles Vaccines Because of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Greater than 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving measles vaccines — which may possibly save their lives — as measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed; and more will be postponed due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

Greater Than 117 Million Children at Risk of No Measles Vaccines Because of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

“Despite having a safe and effective vaccine for over 50 years, measles cases surged over recent years and claimed more than 140,000 lives in 2018, mostly of children and babies — all of which were preventable”, according to this official statement which was issued by the Measles & Rubella Initiative, which is a global partnership that was founded in 2001 by the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in the United States, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, and the World Health Organization and is committed to achieving and maintaining a world without measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. “Against this already dangerous backdrop, preventive and responsive measles vaccination campaigns have now been paused or postponed in 24 countries to help avert further spread of COVID-19. Campaigns expected to take place later in 2020 in an additional 13 countries may not be implemented. Together, more than 117 million children in 37 countries, many of whom live in regions with ongoing measles outbreaks, could be impacted by the suspension of scheduled immunization activities. This staggering number does not include the number of infants that may not be vaccinated because of the effect of COVID-19 on routine immunization services. Children younger than 12-months of age are 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.”

Anticipating the strain on immunization services during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization issued guidelines back on Thursday, March 26, 2020 to help countries to sustain those immunization activities. Those guidelines — which have been endorsed by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization and with which officials at the Measles & Rubella Initiative agree — recommend that governments temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease; as well as 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.”

Countries are urged by the Measles & Rubella Initiative to continue routine immunization services while ensuring the safety of communities and health workers during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — but if vaccinations must be paused due to the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, leaders are urged 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. Delivering all immunization services — including measles vaccines — is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to diseases which could have been prevented by vaccines.

Some of the countries which have already postponed their national vaccination programs include Bolivia, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Honduras, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan and Uzbekistan.

Statistics of Measles

Measles is an extremely contagious and serious disease which is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family. Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every two to three years; and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year…

…but despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine — which prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths and resulted in a reduction of deaths from the measles worldwide by 73 percent between 2000 and 2018 — of the greater than 140,000 people who died from measles in 2018, most of them were children who were younger than five years of age, according to this fact sheet from the World Health Organization, which also offers measles surveillance data.

Of the 1,282 individual cases of measles which were confirmed in 31 states in the United States from Tuesday, January 1, 2019 to Tuesday, December 31, 2019 — which is the greatest number of cases of the measles — 128 people were hospitalized; and 61 people reported having complications which included pneumonia and encephalitis, according to the official Internet web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Sunday, April 5, 2020, 12 cases of measles have been confirmed in seven jurisdictions in the United States.

“Immunization saves 2-3 million lives each year”, according to this article from UNICEF. “Over 1.5 million children die annually from diseases that can be prevented by vaccination.”

Summary

The Measles & Rubella Initiative has helped vaccinate greater than 2.9 billion children and save greater than 21 million lives by increasing vaccination coverage, improving disease response, monitoring and evaluation, and building public confidence and demand for immunization.

Although a coordinated effort and commitment of resources is required in the fight to gain control over the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic in order to ensure that those workers on the front line are properly protected as they face and respond to this new threat, diseases caused by other viruses cannot be ignored as essential immunization services must continue to be protected. Children who are at risk should not permanently miss out on being treated for measles and other diseases. Urgent efforts must immediately be undertaken at local, national, regional and global levels to prepare to close the gaps in immunity which the measles virus will exploit by ensuring that vaccines are available; and that they reach children and vulnerable populations — as quickly as possible — to keep them safe.

Not everyone believes in the concept of vaccines; but the point is that the current hysteria over the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic should not eclipse the need to continue to save lives from other viruses which cause potentially deadly diseases — such as the Ebola virus, which is causing deaths once again, as one of numerous examples…

…especially when those diseases have the potential to kill thousands — if not millions — of people; and some communicable diseases have killed many more people than the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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