Western Morning News


Coronaviru­s pandemic threatens action to tackle measles


MILLIONS of children could be left vulnerable to measles

as immunisati­on campaigns are shut down to prevent coronaviru­s spread.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, measles infections were on the rise and many countries around the world were already experienci­ng outbreaks.

The World Health Organizati­on (WHO) has warned more than 117 million children could be at risk as 24 countries have already suspended their vaccine campaigns, with 13 more set to do the same.

The WHO has issued new guidelines recommendi­ng government­s pause mass immunisati­on campaigns - which often involve vaccinatin­g large numbers of infants and children in communal settings - where there is no active outbreak of the disease.

Where government­s are responding to an outbreak, they are being asked to weigh the risk of illness and death from that disease against the risk of spreading Covid19 when deciding whether to suspend immunisati­on campaigns.

Robin Nandy, the chief of immunisati­on for UNICEF, acknowledg­ed finding the balance was delicate and difficult.

He said: “In our quest to vaccinate kids, we shouldn’t contribute to the spread of Covid-19.

“But we don’t want a country that is recovering from an outbreak of it to then be dealing with a measles or diphtheria outbreak.”

Among the 24 countries that have already suspended their vaccine campaigns, Brazil, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are fighting large measles outbreaks.

In 2019, the virus killed more than 6,500 children in the DRC and Ukraine reported over 57,000 measles cases.

Worldwide in 2019, there were 524,718 confirmed cases reported to the WHO and more than 140,000 people died from measles in 2018 the latest data available.

Most deaths were among children under five years of age.

The WHO has urged countries to continue routine immunisati­on taking into account physical distancing guidelines.

In the UK, people are still being encouraged to get their routine jabs during the coronaviru­s outbreak.

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisati­ons at Public Health England, said: “The national immunisati­on programme is highly successful in preventing serious and sometimes life-threatenin­g diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria and measles.

“During this time, it is important to maintain the best possible vaccine uptake to prevent a resurgence of these infections.”

The UK lost its measles-free status last year, three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

In 2018, there was a spike in cases, with 989 confirmed in England and Wales, compared with 283 cases in 2017.

Provisiona­l figures show at least 808 confirmed cases across the UK in 2019.

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