A child reacts as CHPs administer the Measles-Rubella vaccine at Daraja Mbili village in Kisii on June 26, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Stakeholders in the health sector have warned over the shortage of childhood vaccines even as Gavi - the Vaccine Alliance rolled out a measles vaccination drive in Africa.

The campaign targets 100 million children in 22 African countries.

In a statement, Gavi said the programme is being done through catch-up and follow-up campaigns for 2024.

“Amid an increase in global measles outbreaks and mortalities, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is working with governments, communities and partners to reach up to 100 million children,” the statement said.

Countries expected to roll out the programme include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.


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“Timely, high coverage campaigns reaching un and under-immunised children are key to closing growing immunity gaps, particularly in fragile and conflict settings,” added the statement.

Measles is a contagious viral disease that spreads through respiratory droplets created when an infected individual coughs, sneezes or speaks. Symptoms include a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes and small white spit inside the cheeks.

The disease can affect anyone, but it is most common in children, with vaccination being the best way to prevent the disease or spread it to other people.

The ambitious target according to Gavi-the Vaccine Alliance comes at a time when there has been an alarming rise in cases, outbreaks and mortalities following pandemic-related drops in vaccine coverage.

Globally, routine immunisation coverage for the first dose of the Measles Containing Vaccine (MCV1) is below pre-pandemic levels.

Recent data published by the World Health Organisation (WHO)-CDC shows that from December 2022 to November 2023, 51 countries experienced large or disruptive measles outbreaks, compared with 33 countries in 2022. Of the countries that experienced recent outbreaks, 26 were in Africa.

Countries that have already launched preventive measles and rubella campaigns in 2024 include Eritrea, Nepal, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as Sudan which is rolling out an MR introduction campaign amid an ongoing conflict.

In Kenya, health stakeholders have reported an outbreak of measles in Garissa, cases that are feared may spread across the country. Data from the Ministry of Health reveal that 392 cases were reported in 2022 and 615 cases in 2021. Despite suspected cases of measles in Garissa, Kenya has not rolled out a campaign to stop its spread.

Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha said plans are underway to ensure there is a supply of all childhood vaccines. In an interview, she revealed that the jabs given to newborns under the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization (KEPI) are supplied by the United Nations Children's’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi- the Vaccine Alliance. 

However, the supply has not been smooth because of a debt owed to the supplier. “We have a challenge, but we are working on it,” said Nakhumicha.

She added: “We have an outstanding claim, but we had a discussion with my colleague at the National Treasury and the PS Medical Services and we have come up with a plan on what should be done to seal the gap."

Some of the vaccines which are out of stock include Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), measles, polio, rotavirus and tetanus.

The jabs are given to newborns to prevent six killer childhood diseases, namely tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles. Facilities facing vaccine shortages, Nakhumicha said should order for replenishment.

“The product (vaccines) may not be at the national level, but at the sub-county level, the vaccines are there. It is just that we are being careful so that we do not run out completely.

Mechanisms have also been put in place to ensure that if a facility has run out of the vaccines, there is a way they can check within the sub-national level if it's available, and what can be transferred from one facility to the other to ensure children do not miss their doses,” added the CS.

Data by the Health Ministry reveal that at least 300,000 infants miss critical vaccines every year.

Every year, the Health Ministry aims to vaccinate at least 1.5 million children. Pastoral communities are the most affected, with a high number missing vaccines.