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Mass Measles Immunization Pending: One Million Children Targeted

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Health authorities in Liberia have begun devising plans to vaccinate more than 1 million children between six months to 10 years against measles and polio in a mass nationwide immunization campaign slated for April 10-16 2015, an official has disclosed.

The health campaign, which could be one of the biggest in the recent history of the country, is coming at a time Liberia is striving to eradicate the deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 3,000 people and ravaged the economy.      

Deputy Program Manager for the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), Adolphus T. Clarke, told journalists in Monrovia Friday that the exercise aims to protect children from common and preventable diseases including measles and polio which are prevalent in Liberia.

According to official statistics, children in the age range of one to 10 years constitute 28% of the country’s estimated four million people.

According to Mr. Clarke, there are reported cases of measles in three of Liberia’s 15 counties.  He named Montserrado, with an estimated population of 1.4 million, Margibi and Bong counties as areas reporting cases of measles.

Speaking at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing Friday, he said 30 cases have been discovered in Montserrado, with Margibi and Bong counties reporting 6 and 5 cases respectively.

He said the current cases are being discovered in children less than five years, who are0 mostly females.

But there are skepticisms that the planned mass immunization campaign could be greeted with low turnout.

The health official told reporters today that previous vaccination campaigns referred to as ‘routine immunization’ in 2014 failed to achieve targeted objectives.

Mr. Clarke said both round one and two of routine immunization carried out by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfares in 2014 which targeted more than 500,000 children less than one-year-old recorded only 20 and 30 percent success.

He blamed the poor turnout on the outbreak of Ebola. He said parents and guardians were afraid to take their children to health facilities to be vaccinated because of the outbreak.

He added that the breakdown of the health sector at the peak of the Ebola health crisis in the country was also responsible for the low turnout of children during the routine immunization campaigns of 2014.  

When asked how the ministry intends to regain the confidence of parents and encourage them to have their kids vaccinated, Mr. Clarke said   the ministry is about rollout plans to engage parents, and community leaders in active dialogue on the benefits of the immunization program.

Responding to question about Ebola trial vaccine hampering efforts by the Ministry of Health to immunize children against common illnesses, Clarke said there was fear among parents about the exercise, but said such skepticism is the result of misunderstanding over the difference between the Ebola trial vaccine and children vaccination.

The EPI Deputy Program Manager used the occasion to clarify the difference to the public, saying the Ebola trial vaccine is administered to adults of age 18 and above who have voluntarily   agreed to take the trial medicine, while the routine immunization and the upcoming mass nationwide vaccination campaigns target children less than one year and six months and children who are ten years old respectively.

He appealed to parents and caregivers to allay fear and take their children to designated health facilities to have them vaccinated.