PREVENTING OUTBREAK

Measles jab drive targets seven million children before June

WHO says at least 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated

In Summary

• In 2016, some 97 per cent of Kenyan children had received their first dose of measles vaccine by age one but numbers are dropping. 

• Kenya introduced mixed measles-rubella vaccine after an increase in cases of rubella with 422 cases in 2015. 

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki comforts a child in a past immunisation drive.
MEASLES AND RUBELLA: Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki comforts a child in a past immunisation drive.
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

The Ministry of Health will vaccinate up to seven million Kenyan children with the measles-rubella vaccine in a major drive before June. 

The exercise, announced by Unicef in a statement, is part of an international plan to help halt a recent surge in global measles cases. 

The 2019 immunisation data from Unicef and the World Health Organization shows measles vaccination in Kenya has slowed down since 2016 while infections have gone up.

The drive will be funded by vaccines financier Gavi, Vaccine Alliance and Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) partners, who include the WHO and Unicef.

"They will target children under five years, the age group most vulnerable to the disease," Unicef said in the statement.

In 2016, some 97 per cent of Kenyan children had received their first dose of measles vaccine by age one. 

In 2017, this dropped to 90 per cent and this level was sustained in 2018 and 2019, the WHO report shows.

At least 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated to prevent measles outbreaks, WHO says.  

The number of children who receive their second dose in Kenya is even lower. 

From 2015, the second dosage coverage stood at 32 per cent but increased to 42 per cent in 2018.

Last December, 15 counties mostly in the Rift Valley, western and the coast reported biting measles vaccine stock-outs. 

The ministry said the shortage would be resolved through redistribution because some counties had excess stocks. 

“Measles cases rose alarmingly in 2019 (globally), affecting hundreds of thousands of children and claiming many young lives,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said.  

Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said the media had focused on rising cases in Europe and the US, yet the vast majority of measles deaths are happening in the world’s poorest countries. 

"That’s why these vaccination campaigns are so important, protecting the next generation so they can survive and thrive in later life," he said in the statement.

In total, up to 45 million children in seven developing countries will be vaccinated over the next six months. 

The rest of the countries are Bangladesh (15.5 million children), Central African Republic (one million), Ethiopia (15 million), Nepal (three million), Somalia (1.4 million) and South Sudan (2.5 million). 

Until May 2016, Kenya used the standalone measles vaccine. The introduction of the Measles-Rubella (MR) combined vaccine came as a result of an increase in cases of rubella in Kenya, with 422 cases in 2015. 

Edited by R.Wamochie