BEIJING, CHINA, 1 September 2010 – Nearly 100 million children across China will be vaccinated against measles from 11-20 September in one of the world's biggest such public health undertakings to date. The nationwide campaign will protect millions of children against the disease and bring China closer to reaching the measles elimination goal by 2012 in line with the target set by the World Health Organization's Western Pacific region.
"China is a priority country in the global fight against measles and we commend the government for its leadership in this life-saving work," said Dr Michael O'Leary, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in China.
In 2009, more than 52,000 people in China were reported to have contracted measles, accounting for about 86 per cent of the measles cases in WHO's Western Pacific region.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that affects both children and young adults. While most individuals recover from measles infection, some may suffer serious complications such as blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, pneumonia and ear infections. It is a leading cause of avoidable death and disability among children in developing countries. Globally, an estimated 164,000 people died from measles in 2008 – mostly children under the age of five.
The most effective way to prevent the disease is through vaccination. Currently, China offers two doses of measles containing vaccine as part of its routine immunization programme. In addition, 27 provinces have implemented measles campaigns since 2004. Extensive experience from other countries shows that well-conducted campaigns can ensure that every child, especially those not reached through the routine immunization program, receives measles vaccine.
"However", said Dr. O'Leary, "Some people living in remote areas and large urban cities, as well as the large migrant population, may have less access to vaccines and healthcare than other segments of the population, and thus not be protected against measles. In addition, a small percentage of children who have previously been vaccinated against measles may not have developed immunity to the disease. "
Next week's mass vaccination seeks to address those gaps.
"This campaign is important for every family in China: in remote villages, in urban areas and in migrant communities,” said Dr Yin Yin Nwe, UNICEF Representative for China. “We encourage all parents to take their children to the closest vaccination clinic during the campaign period. This huge nation-wide effort will produce significant benefits for child survival.”
The measles vaccine is a safe and highly effective vaccine. But as with most vaccines, some children may get fever or mild reactions in the days following vaccination. This means that the vaccine is working to protect the child. Some may worry about their child receiving multiple doses of vaccine. However, a child who has previously received measles vaccination can be given an additional dose of measles vaccine. "The immune system can easily manage multiple or repeated vaccinations,” stated Dr O’Leary.
Vaccinating every child, even those that have been vaccinated in the past is essential in stopping the virus with a wall of immunity in the population. Using this strategy, which was developed by WHO, has enabled countries in Central and South America to eliminate measles.
The measles vaccination campaign takes place in the context of international partnerships and collaborations. WHO has worked with the China Ministry of Health to provide technical support. In addition, China and countries in the Americas have shared experiences through exchanges of experts to ensure that the campaign is conducted according to international standards.