Just when it feels like we’ve gotten over the coronavirus pandemic, another infectious disease has been making the rounds: measles. Over the past few months, several States in India, notably Maharashtra and Kerala, have seen outbreaks of hundreds of cases of measles and several deaths of children. As of December 12, Maharashtra recorded 991 confirmed cases of measles, and tragically, 19 deaths, as per a news report. States such as Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar and Haryana too, have recorded an uptick in cases.
Measles is a highly infectious viral respiratory illness. Transmission is similar to COVID-19’s transmission: airborne and through respiratory droplets and close personal contact. In mild cases, the infected individual gets a rash and fever, but the disease can be fatal. Two doses of the vaccine, which are included in the country’s universal immunisation programme, provide a very high level of protection, making it one of the vaccine preventable diseases. But since it extremely infectious and spreads rapidly, a large section – about 95% of the population -- needs to be immunised in order to keep outbreaks at bay, experts believe.
Vaccine coverage however, was hit by the pandemic in India in 2020 and 2021 when routine healthcare services were disrupted. Last month, the World Health Organisation declared measles to be an “imminent threat to every region of the world.” The WHO said, globally, a record number of nearly 40 million children had missed at least one dose of the measles vaccine in 2021.
Another aspect that has raised concerns is the infection being seen in babies younger than nine months – the first dose of the vaccine is given to infants between 9 and 12 months – leading experts to consider whether the first dose should be given earlier.
The Centre stepped into action last month, directing States and Union Territories to consider administering an additional dose to all children of 9 months to 5 years in vulnerable areas, identify cases and conduct outbreak response immunisation, as per news reports.
So what happened to our immunisation coverage during the pandemic? How much do we have to do to catch up with our vaccinations? Is vaccine hesitancy an issue and how can it be tackled? How well is India set to eliminate measles by 2023 as per our goal?
Guest: Dr. Rajib Dasgupta, Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Managing Editor, Indian Journal of Public Health
Host: Zubeda Hamid
Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
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