Despite a welcome reduction in measles deaths worldwide, the highly infectious disease “continues to take a terrible toll on the lives of children around the world,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, told Vaccine News Daily recently.
Progress toward total measles immunization has stalled during the last four years, creating gaps in vaccination programs that have led to countrywide outbreaks of the disease, according to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“A coordinated approach that puts stronger routine immunization at its core will be central to getting measles under control and securing further reductions in mortality from this vaccine-preventable disease,” Berkley said.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is an international public-private health partnership committed to increasing access to immunization programs in poor countries. The alliance supports 73 of the poorest countries in the world with its immunization programs.
Berkley said Gavi is working to counter the measles resurgence in low-income countries in four main ways.
Since 2007, Gavi has supported a second dose of measles vaccine in 14 countries, with seven more countries rolling out or planning to roll out the vaccine this year.
“To date, our support has helped countries immunize 22 million children,” he said.
Gavi also has funded measles campaigns in six large countries considered at high risk of outbreaks, but which are not yet ready to introduce the measles-rubella vaccine.
In addition, since 2013, some 67 million children have been protected from measles following Gavi-funded campaigns; and by the end of 2014, 140 million children between 9 months and 14 years of age had been immunized with the measles-rubella vaccine with Gavi support.
“Moreover, Gavi is contributing $55 million to the Measles & Rubella Initiative, formerly the Measles Initiative, from 2013-2017 to be used for outbreak response in Gavi-supported countries,” Berkley told Vaccine News Daily.
Because measles is a highly infectious viral disease, WHO has said that measles elimination can only be achieved through a two-dose schedule with at least 95 percent coverage for both doses, Berkley said.
“Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with high case and death rates, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths,” he said.
And although all countries include at least one dose of measles-containing vaccine in their routine vaccination schedule, only 63 percent have met the target of at least 90 percent of children vaccinated with a first dose, he said.
“Additionally, only half of the world’s children are receiving the recommended second dose of the vaccine," Berkley said. "Sustained efforts are needed to increase vaccine coverage."
There are many challenges in this endeavor, however, including civil conflicts, weak health systems, geography, cultural and economic barriers to reaching certain population groups, and inadequate monitoring and use of data needed to take action.
“Considering that measles control requires high vaccine coverage, immunization services must aim to deliver two doses of measles vaccine to every child,” Berkley told Vaccine News Daily.