Due to COVID-19, routine vaccination campaigns came to a halt in several developing countries. As a result, there were several outbreaks of other diseases, including rubella and measles. Measles is a highly contagious virus, and while it is preventable with a vaccine, it can lead to severe complications, and even death, if an individual goes unvaccinated. The pandemic offset vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries in both 2020 and 2021, which “increases the risk of bigger outbreaks around the world.” One of the countries impacted by delayed immunizations is Kenya. However, the new measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya that started in June 2021 may save the lives of millions of infants and young children.
Vaccination Campaign in Kenya
The measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya, also known as the MR campaign, began on June 26, 2021, and ended on July 5, 2021. Several organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, worked with the government of Kenya to deliver the vaccines. The initiative occurred in 22 Kenyan counties. Additionally, the organizations prioritized the counties with especially high numbers of measles cases and high counts of unvaccinated children. The campaign targeted children from 9 months old all the way up to children 5 years of age. Overall, the campaign targeted around four million children in Kenya.
The operation incorporated collaborative measures to allow the campaigns to run smoothly and quickly throughout the counties. This included hiring a high number of healthcare workers and setting up more than 5,000 vaccination sites. More than 16,000 healthcare workers participated in administering the vaccines. Along with the cost-free vaccines administered at health clinics and facilities, the operation included vaccination spots at “preschools, marketplaces, churches and other designated places on specific days” with the aim of vaccinating as many children as possible. Additionally, in order to raise awareness, a telecommunications company sent out mass text messages about the campaign.
Since 2016, immunizations have been declining in Kenya, causing the number of outbreaks to rise, even though “the MR vaccine has been offered as part of the routine childhood immunization program” within the country. The pandemic worsened those conditions, with 16.6 million African children missing “supplemental vaccination against measles between January 2020 and April 2021.” Moreover, measles surveillance declined in 2020.
In order for communities to avoid measles outbreaks, full vaccination rates need to be at least 95% for children. However, just 50% of children in Kenya received the full vaccine in 2020. Thankfully, with support from the Kenyan government and organizations such as UNICEF, health officials were able to provide MR vaccines to children across the country. This helped to manage measles outbreaks and safeguard the lives of many children this year. To continue more health initiatives after the MR vaccination campaign, Kenya is rolling out even more vaccination campaigns. This also includes a “multi-antigen catch-up campaign” to reduce the chances of further outbreaks and decrease the number of preventable deaths in Kenya.
– Karuna Lakhiani