Every dose counts. The measles outbreak and missed vaccinations
Alla’s story of surviving measles amidst the outbreak.
When a child falls ill in the family, it is common for all members to become upset, tense, and saddened. Naturally, the child's health is of utmost importance to every parent. The recent measles outbreak has once again given cause for concern among mothers, fathers, and grandparents alike, and their worries are not unfounded, as measles is a potentially deadly infectious disease.
"In February, Yerevan was hit by a wave of severe viral infections. I can't recall my children ever falling this ill in the past three years. My daughter had a persistent high fever and cough; I hadn't noticed any other symptoms. When I realized her fever had lasted too long, we rushed to the hospital. A young doctor examined my child, and upon seeing the rash on her chest, she confidently said that it was measles. I remember feeling extremely frightened and anxious," she added.
Measles is a perilous and potentially deadly infectious disease. Roughly one or two out of every 1,000 children who contract measles do not survive. Typically, complications of the disease, such as pneumonia, encephalitis (which could lead to brain damage), purulent inflammation of the eyes (which can lead to blindness), and more, are the primary causes of death. Symptoms of the disease commence with a dry cough, red eyes, and fever. Within three to four days, a rash develops, initially appearing behind the ears, then spreading across the face and throughout the upper and lower body. The measles rash may last about seven days. Contacted children are usually isolated for 17-21 days.
"I felt absolutely awful. I had a red rash on my body, which was terrifying. Then, the rash vanished," shared eight-year-old Alla.
"When the doctor informed me that my child would easily overcome the disease since she had been vaccinated, I felt relieved and more relaxed. The rash on my daughter disappeared quicker than I had anticipated," recalled Ofelia. "Both of my children have received all their vaccinations. Unfortunately, we missed the second dose of the measles, rubella, and mumps (MRM) [vaccination] when they turned six, which meant we weren't fully protected against the infection. When my daughter was about to turn six, we moved to another country. We were in a new country at the time, which coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak, and we were apprehensive about getting another vaccination," she added.
Ofelia spoke of her grandmother, Ofelia Inchikyan, with great warmth, admiration, and pride. She shared that her grandmother was one of the pioneers of immunization in Armenia, a seasoned pediatrician who worked in the RA Ministry of Health and taught at the Medical University for many years.
"She was extremely diligent when it came to my children's health. She insisted that they receive all their vaccinations and repeatedly reminded me about the missed second dose of MRM [vaccine]. It never occurred to me that there could be a measles outbreak, let alone that we could contract the disease. If I had known we were at risk, I would have undoubtedly dropped everything and taken my kids for their vaccination," Ofelia said. She added that in a small country like Armenia, people could not afford to let such infectious diseases spread, and it is thanks to vaccines that the lives of thousands of children have been saved from various severe diseases.
"When you weigh the options of spending half a day taking your child to the polyclinic for vaccination, thus protecting them and dozens of other children from dangerous infectious diseases and their severe consequences, versus leaving it to chance and risking two weeks of illness, possible complications, missed classes, as an informed parent, you naturally choose the former and get your child vaccinated,"
As a responsible mother, Ofelia promptly informed her children's school and teachers of the measles diagnosis. She also shared that when she shared the incident on social media groups, several other mothers immediately took their children to get the second dose of the MRM vaccine they had missed.
The MRM vaccine protects against three diseases simultaneously. It is recommended that children receive their first dose of the vaccine at one year and their second dose between the ages of four and six.
UNICEF has provided unwavering support for implementing children's vaccinations in Armenia and remains committed to this cause. Liana Hovakimyan, Health and Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF Armenia reminisced about the organization's long-standing collaboration with Armenia's Ministry of Health.
“Since 1994, UNICEF supported the Government of Armenia in the procurement of vaccines for six WHO-targeted vaccine-preventable diseases, syringes, safety boxes, and cold-chain equipment. We also supported the introduction of new antigens, such as Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccines. This work was complemented by training of health personnel, health education and communication activities, as well as upgrading of the national surveillance system. Through our partnership we were able to help eliminate shortages in supplies and sustain high immunization coverage. Armenia was certified as a polio free zone and adopted a national strategy for the eventual take-over of vaccine procurement. In 2007 UNICEF supported with the mass measles and rubella immunization campaign as an important part of measles and rubella elimination strategy. As a result, from 2007 till now no local measles and rubella cases have been registered.”
Despite receiving all scheduled vaccinations except for one dose of the MRM vaccine, little Alla didn't remember anything about them. Now that she's a little more afraid of needles, she believes getting all the vaccinations out of the way when you're young is better. "When children are young, they won't remember or feel much, so you can quickly get all the vaccinations done and over with," Alla said.
Both mother and daughter expressed that being stuck at home for so many days was challenging. Ofelia had to miss work, and her daughter had to miss classes. But perhaps the most difficult part for Alla was not being able to see her friends for such a long time.
"The worst thing was that I didn't go to school for two weeks; I missed my friends a lot. I like to hang out with my girlfriends. My closest friend had the flu, but we both coped somehow; we drank tea and talked over the phone," Alla explained.
"If I had a magic wand, I would use it to eliminate all the viruses in the world so that children, adults, grandfathers, and grandmothers wouldn't get sick, and that all countries make friends and work together.”
Alla’s words hold a simple truth that should resonate with all adults and inspire them to act. Scientists have long discovered and developed vaccines to protect against viruses; the rest lies in the wisdom of young boys and girls like Alla and their caregivers to ensure that children are protected and have a healthy childhood.