Child immunization against measles, rubella underway in Kenya

A child being immunised against rubella. PHOTO/UNICEFKenya/2021/Nyaberi.

Over 3.5 million Kenyan children will be immunized against measles, mumps and rubella in a campaign targeting 22 counties.

The exercise started late last month and is ending in a week’s time.

National Vaccinations and Immunization Program head Dr Collins Tabu said the vaccination drive is intended to boost the children’s immunity against measles and rubella.

“We are targeting at least 3.5 million children aged between 9 to 59 months to be able to boost their immunity against the life-threatening measles and rubella disease,” Dr Tabu said in Nairobi recently.

Dr Tabu said the campaign targets the children in high risk regions of the country.  

“The campaign is being done in 22 counties spread out over the country but mainly in the Horn of Africa, Wajir, Mandera Tana River and Kilifi in the coastal region, as well as 4 counties each from Western and Nyanza regions, as well as Nairobi,” he said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is supporting the exercise.

“The vaccination campaign is underway in Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga, West Pokot, Baringo, Turkana, Homa Bay, Baringo, Bomet, Kisii, Migori, Nairobi, Wajir, Kilifi, Tana River, Mandera, Garissa, Kajiado, Narok counties,” said Unicef health specialist Dr Peter Okoth.

Dr Tabu said the campaign targets children in high risk regions of the country. He also confirmed that the country was battling an ongoing outbreak of measles, including 2 deaths and 786 cases reported in the high risk zone.

“We do have ongoing active outbreaks of measles in Tana River and West Pokot counties with 2 deaths reported in the latter. Overall, we have 2.1 million children most susceptible to infection, among the 3.5 million targeted nationally,” said the medic.

Dr Tabu termed the measles burden in the country “worrisome”, saying the latest increase in case numbers could herald a larger, growing wave of infections that could threaten the country’s long sought objective of herd immunity among the children.

“The disease burden is getting worrisome. Over the last one and a half years, we have seen an increase in the measles and rubella caseload from 100 to 786 cases currently, which is worrisome as we could begin to see a huge number of children with reported cases in the high risk areas, like the cases we saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Dr Tabu.    

He said the country could not afford to risk large scale outbreaks of measles and rubella as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic that has already strained the healthcare sector since its arrival in the country 14 months ago.

According to the NVIP head, at least 2.1 million children in the 22 counties stand the risk of infection should they miss out on vaccination,

“In the 22 counties, we have about 2.1 million children at risk of measles infection,” he said. Overall, at least 3.5 million children are susceptible to measles and rubella outbreaks,” Dr Tabu said.

According to Dr Okoth the children targeted in the exercise are the most vulnerable segment of the population, and at highest risk of complications including death due to their weak immunity.  

“The Ministry of Health has planned to vaccinate children aged between 9 and 59 months. These are children below five years in 22 counties that have been identified as posing the highest risk for measles outbreak,” said Dr Okoth.

“These are counties that have very high numbers of children who are not yet vaccinated and have also previously reported measles outbreaks,” Dr Okoth added.

He explained that both diseases were caused by viruses and could be spread from person to person.

“Measles and rubella are viral diseases that affect children. Both diseases can affect adults. Rubella on the other hand can infect adults but can cause birth defects or deformities to the baby including heart problems, loss of hearing, and eyesight if it infects a pregnant woman,” he said.  

“Measles is a highly infectious disease spread through sneezing and coughing. Once it gets to the body of the child, measles can cause damage to the lungs, brain, ears, stomach and intestines, stomach. It can also cause severe diarrhoea, pneumonia, blindness, inflammation and damage to the brain stem,” added the medic.

He said the national prevalence of measles had been significantly reduced due to the success of previous vaccination campaigns.

“We have seen very few measles related deaths over the years thanks to widespread vaccination, Dr Okoth said.

He insisted that the country’s parents and caregivers were still not off the hook as regards risk of measles and rubella infection, saying the jab was a must for the protection of the young ones.

“Children are still at risk if they are not vaccinated against measles and rubella,” the medic added.

He called on residents of the counties to ensure they took their children for the immunization exercise.

“It is very important for the children to get vaccinated irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated before or not. We would expect children to get their first jab at 8, 9 and 18 months and during vaccination campaigns like the ongoing one,” he said.

Dr Tabu echoed Dr Okoth’s statement, saying it was important for caregivers to cooperate with the ministry in ensuring their children were fully protected.

“We call on parents to avail their children for vaccination and secure a healthy future for their children. Let us all walk hand in hand with the ministry as the campaign gets underway to ensure that no child is left behind,” the medic said.

The campaign ends on July 25, 2010.

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