THE coronavirus pandemic could trigger a deadly measles outbreak, experts are warning.
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And doctors are now urging parents to continue to get their children vaccinated during the coronavirus outbreak.
Unicef has estimated that 117 million youngsters in 37 countries may not get immunised as Covid-19 forces social distancing and piles pressure on health services.
Measles immunisation campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed as medics look for ways to combat coronavirus and many more may be postponed putting children in dozens of countries at risk.
The revelations come from the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which is backed by the World Health Organisation and the UN children’s fund Unicef.
“If the difficult choice to pause vaccination is made due to the spread of Covid-19, we urge leaders to intensify efforts to track unvaccinated children, so that the most vulnerable populations can be provided with measles vaccines as soon as it becomes possible to do so,” it said in a statement.
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“While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of Covid-19, delivering all immunisation services, including measles vaccines, is essential to saving lives.”
The disease, which causes coughing, rashes and fever, can be prevented by two doses of the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine, available free to all young children in the UK.
Here, 95 per cent of five-year-olds have had the first jab – the World Health Organisation (WHO) target – but only 87.4 per cent have had the second.
Children cannot become an extended burden of Covid-19
And as measles is highly infectious even small declines in uptake can have an impact, say experts.
WHO warned today that childhood vaccination programmes to protect youngsters against illnesses must not fall by the wayside during the coronavirus pandemic.
Robb Butler, programme manager for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunisation at WHO Europe, said children “cannot become an extended burden” of Covid-19 during a briefing on Thursday.
And he said it was “very concerning” that the “phenomenal burden” from the pandemic was placing even greater strain on the ability of “even the most developed and mature health systems” across the planet to immunise children against illnesses.
Speaking about the situation across Europe, Mr Butler said: “There is this crowding-out taking place which means routine services are not able to deliver at the same efficiency and effectiveness as they have in the past.
“Of course, immunisation – particularly childhood immunisation – fits into that in terms of the services not being delivered as they were previous to this pandemic.
“In this respect, it’s very concerning to us – children cannot become an extended burden, if you like, of Covid-19.”
He added: “We cannot allow that to happen.
What is measles? The signs and symptoms you need to know
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications.
It’s now uncommon in the UK because of the effectiveness of vaccination.
Anyone can get measles if they haven’t been vaccinated or they haven’t had it before.
It usually clears in 7 to 10 days but can lead to other serious complications.
Initial symptoms include:
- cold-like symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and a cough
- sore, red eyes
- small grey-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
- aches and pains
A few days later a red-brown, blotchy rash will appear, usually beginning on the head or upper neck before spreading.
You’ll most likely feel most ill the first few days the rash appears.
About one in every 5,000 people will die from measles.
Complications are more likely to develop in:
- babies younger than a year old
- children with a poor diet
- children with a weakened immune system
The most common complications include diarrhoea and vomiting, ear infections, eye infection, pneumonia and bronchitis.
But measles can also lead to other complications, although these are rare:
- brain infections
- eye problems and vision loss
- heart and nervous system problems
- miscarriage or still birth
- premature birth
- low birth weight
There is no specific treatment.
Your GP will probably suggest resting at home and waiting for it to clear.
You can ease your symptoms with pain killers, but always speak to your GP first.
You can avoid measles by getting vaccinated.
One dose of vaccine can be given to a baby when they are 12-13 months old and a second before they start school.
Countries where vaccination levels are higher have less chance of the disease spreading.
Source: NHS Choices
“We have to assure these services are delivered as best they can be during these quite extreme and phenomenal times we are living through at the moment.”
Earlier today, the chief executive of the British Society for Immunology urged parents to continue to get their children vaccinated during the coronavirus outbreak.
Dr Doug Brown told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are concerned that we could see a further decline in uptake in childhood vaccinations because of the necessary lockdown measures that are in place.
“We’ve seen the last four years those uptake rates decline, we’ve seen an increase in measles cases and we’re well below the recommended uptake that the World Health Organisation suggests of 95 per cent and we really can’t afford to see these uptake rates slip any further.”
Dr Brown said “it is absolutely key that we do see vaccinations delivered, not just in the UK but globally, vaccinations save between one to two million lives globally per year”.
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Covid-19 has killed more than 135,000 people and left countries around the world in virtual lockdown as they try to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus which causes it.
However, a surge in measles outbreaks could pose another major global health threat.
WHO said in December that measles had infected nearly 10m people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, in what it described as “an outrage”.
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