On the eve of the African Vaccination Week – the annual campaign for universal access to life-saving vaccines on the continent – new, early data shows that an estimated 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned supplemental measles vaccine doses between January 2020 and April 2021 and eight African countries reported major measles outbreaks that affected tens of thousands during the period.
Fifteen African countries delayed measles immunization drives last
year as they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization, while seven of these
countries have now completed the campaigns, eight remain outstanding, posing a
risk of major measles outbreaks.
On the eve of the African Vaccination Week – the annual campaign for universal
access to life-saving vaccines on the continent – new, early data shows that an
estimated 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned supplemental measles
vaccine doses between January 2020 and April 2021 and eight African countries
reported major measles outbreaks that affected tens of thousands during the
The outbreaks were largely due to low routine immunization coverage or delayed
vaccination drives. Besides, the quality of measles surveillance in Africa fell
to the lowest level in seven years in 2020, with just 11 countries meeting
Recent outbreaks of measles, but also yellow fever, cholera and meningitis all
point to worrying gaps in immunization coverage and surveillance in Africa, the
organization said in its latest statement.
"As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously
exposed to preventable diseases. I urge all countries to double down on
essential health services, including life-saving vaccination campaigns,” said
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for
Moeti says that measles is highly contagious, requiring at least
95% immunization coverage in the population to prevent outbreaks. She warned adding that coverage with the
first dose of the measles-containing vaccine has stagnated at around 69% in the
WHO African Region since 2013.
Only seven countries in the region achieved 95% measles-containing
vaccine coverage in 2019. The low measles coverage reflects a wider stagnation
in routine immunization in Africa that, in some countries, has been exacerbated
by the pandemic and related restrictions.
Most diseases, including tetanus, diphtheria and yellow fever,
require 90% coverage in the population, yet rates in Africa remained stuck at
around 70 to 75% over the last decade.
Also, around 9 million children in the African region miss
life-saving vaccines each year and one in five children remain unprotected from
vaccine-preventable diseases, which claim the lives of over 500 000 children
under 5 years in Africa every year.
Alongside the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, WHO is urging
countries to ensure that routine immunization service delivery is scaled up to
close the gaps created at the start of the pandemic.
“Integrated action is needed to increase and expand access to
immunization as part of primary health care. This must be backed by a
well-trained workforce, strong surveillance, health information systems,
national leadership, management and coordination. We must also engage more with
community leaders and influencers to ensure that everyone understands the
life-saving, transformative promise of vaccines,” said Dr Moeti.
WHO and member states will observe the 11th African Vaccination Week from
24 to 30 April 2021 – an annual campaign that unites partners in calling for
universal access to life-saving vaccines and greater collective action on
immunization in Africa.