More than 117 million children at risk of missing out on measles vaccines, as COVID-19 surges

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As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine. Measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed; more will be postponed.

The pandemic sweeping the globe requires a coordinated effort and commitment of resources to ensure frontline health workers around the world are protected, as they face and respond to this new threat. At the same time, we must also champion efforts to protect essential immunization services, now and for the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new guidelines endorsed by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization — to help countries to sustain immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries are also urged 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, 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. While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of COVID-19, delivering all immunization services, including measles vaccines, is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Measles & Rubella Initiative supports the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19 through a pause of mass campaigns, where risks of the disease are high. However, this should not mean that children permanently miss out. Urgent efforts must be taken now at local, national, regional and global levels to prepare to close the immunity gaps that 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.

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. 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.