Vaccination drive ongoing to protect children from deadly measles outbreak in Ukraine

24,000 people infected with measles during first two months of 2019

Vasyl Trukhan
Liubomyr Pauk, 8, held the hand of his brother, Bohdan 6, as Bohdan received his MMR vaccination from a mobile brigade of healthcare professionals on 26 February 2019 in the office of a school nurse at Mykolaiv Gymnasium, Lviv region, Western Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0284879/Filippov

01 March 2019

Uliana Dziuba, 36, is holding the hands of her two young children as they wait to receive their vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Unlike her brother Volodia, nine-year-old Maryana is anxious, but Uliana knows how important today is.

“I used to refuse to vaccinate the children against measles,” she says. “Once, I refused because they were sick at the time. Another time, there was a very powerful anti-vaccination campaign on social media. But Maryana got measles at age three and now I’m very worried that my son will get sick. I am vaccinating both of them for the first time today.”

The pair are among thousands of children now being vaccinated in Lviv region, Ukraine, after the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF launched an immunization drive. It is using a combined approach: teams of mobile doctors are working to reach school-age children while local clinics are increasing their ability to vaccinate more children. 

The drive is happening as UNICEF warns that global cases of measles have surged to alarmingly high levels – including in countries that had previously been declared measles free – eroding progress against this highly preventable, but potentially deadly disease.

Maryana Dzuba, 9, receives her first dose of MMR vaccine on 21 February 2019 in the medical centre of the Lapaivka village school, Lviv region, Ukraine, as part of a three-week long catch-up vaccination campaign to increase MMR coverage among school aged children in the region.
UNICEF/UN0284080/ Dyachyshyn
Maryana Dzuba, 9, receives her first dose of MMR vaccine on 21 February 2019 in the medical centre of the Lapaivka village school, Lviv region, Ukraine, as part of a three-week long catch-up vaccination campaign to increase MMR coverage among school aged children in the region.

In Ukraine alone, according to Government data, there were more than 53,000 cases of measles in 2018. Another 24,000 people were infected just in the first two months of this year. The situation in Lviv region is particularly dangerous, with approximately 11,000 measles cases in 2018, and up to 50,000 unvaccinated children in the region.

Of the 634 children attending Volodia and Maryana’s school in Lviv, only 13 remain unvaccinated due to the ongoing immunization drive. During the first two days, a total of 2,030 children were vaccinated. For many it was the first time. The vaccination drive also helps combat negative attitudes towards vaccination, as well as shortages in vaccine supply through 2009-2015.

“Teachers and medical professionals have been campaigning for vaccinations,” says school headteacher Tetiana Malieryk. “We held all-school meetings and parent-teacher conferences, where the danger of measles was explained. Now fewer parents are refusing vaccinations and those children who did not receive vaccinations because of their parents’ beliefs are being vaccinated.”

Next in line for vaccinations at the school in Lviv are six-year-old twins Vitalina and Yuliana. The girls and their mother Olesia Kechur, 37, are dressed in traditional embroidered clothing.  This will be their second vaccination against measles.

Twins Vitalina and Yuliana Kechur, 6, are given a check-up by the doctor before receiving MMR vaccination on 21 February 2019 in the medical centre of the Lapaivka village school, Lviv region, western Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0284081/ Dyachyshyn
Twins Vitalina and Yuliana Kechur, 6, are given a check-up by the doctor before receiving MMR vaccination on 21 February 2019 in the medical centre of the Lapaivka village school, Lviv region, western Ukraine.

“The mother is very responsible about vaccinations,” reports Halyna Narolska, their doctor. “They get all of them and don’t miss anything.”

Narolska has been a doctor for over 30 years. During this time, she says, she has not seen a single complication from an MMR vaccine.

“Temperature may increase and there may be rash on day four, but neither has happened to a single child that we have vaccinated,” she says. “The only way to stop the outbreak is to vaccinate all children.”

“There is a measles outbreak all over the world,” remarked Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Healthcare Olha Stefanyshyna, during a recent visit to Lviv. “However, Ukraine is sadly a leader among the European countries. This is why we need to take extraordinary measures. I would like to say that this campaign is aimed primarily at children who missed their vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella in the past. Today, we have better coverage of children who are born now.”

UNICEF and its partners are supporting governments to reach millions of children in countries around the globe with life-saving immunization. However, stronger commitment and actions to vaccinate more children and protect them from preventable diseases is critical – including in Ukraine.