BY DAVID MAFABI
The government has finalised plans to introduce the second dose of the measles-rubella vaccine in October this year.
Dr Alfred Driwale, the head of the immunisation program at the Health Ministry said they are introducing the second dose because health evidence indicates that one shot does not offer sufficient protection for children.
He explained that Uganda has an average of 1.9 million children born every year who are immunised against measles at the age of nine months but that this first immunisation is not enough to give them enough protection against the disease.
“Measles is a disease that is globally targeted for elimination and “to achieve this, it requires that you give two doses of measles as opposed to one,” said Dr Driwale adding that from the science of vaccines, one dose isn’t enough to protect the child fully because when you vaccinate at nine months the vaccines are 85% effective.
He revealed that it means a child who is vaccinated is not fully protected and that out of 100 children vaccinated, 15 will not benefit from the vaccine which creates gaps in our immunity against measles.
It is against this background that the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the African Field Epidemiology Network – AFENET and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted a 2-day information sharing workshop to learn from other African countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya about their experiences with vaccination in the second year of life, particularly focusing on the introduction of the second dose of the Measles-Rubella vaccine.
Speaking at the conference held at Serena Hotel Kigo, Dr. Driwale noted when you give the second dose after one year, those who were partially immunised, will now be fully immunised.
“So our immunisation schedule for measles, therefore, is going to be at 9 months and at one and a half years you boost and this exercise will start in October 2022 during the intergraded child health days,” said Dr Driwale.
He said throughout the country, they are going to prepare districts, sub-counties, and parishes to ensure that children who are 4 years below are brought for measles vaccination.
He explained that those who are between one and half years and 4 years will be getting their second dose if they had already gotten the first during the routine immunisation and those who didn’t get it from 9 months to a year will get their dose that will be the first dose and they’ll be required to come later for their second dose.
The rollout of the booster shots for measles will be done with the support of the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), the organisation is implementing the 2nd Year of Life project which is funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Simon Antara – Executive Director, AFENET noted that vaccines have been the game-changer in the fight against infectious diseases across the world.
“Vaccines made it possible for a disease such as smallpox to be eradicated. We are at the verge of eradicating polio, thanks to vaccines. The impact of vaccines on the COVID-19 pandemic in reducing the number of cases and restoring social and economic life is yet another proof of the game-changing role of vaccines,” Dr Antara said.
Dr Antara said at every stage of life, there are vaccines that can help prevent diseases, ensure healthy populations, enhance economic activities and prove the quality of life which justifies the reason why the life course approach to immunization is so critical.
He revealed that the despite the availability of vaccines to prevent several infectious diseases, many still suffer and or die from these preventable diseases, particularly in the developing world.
Dr. Annet Kisakye of the World Health Organisation urged all stakeholders to work together to support the immunisation fields adding that the event was timely to see how best the member states can catch up on all the missed opportunities.
Dr Arthur Fitzmaurice, Acting Uganda Country Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC said the workshop follows the direction of the Immunization Agenda 2030, which has a focus to “leave no one behind” – allow everyone, everywhere, at every age to fully benefit from vaccines for good health and well-being.
He said the priority action to reach this goal is the life course approach to essential immunization services, which aims to deliver recommended vaccines to all target groups, regardless of their stage of life.
“The timings of routine vaccinations offer opportunities to check whether people are missing any .recommended vaccines from earlier in life. This catch-up vaccination is a critical component of any country’s routine immunization system,” said Dr Fitzmaurice.
He said that CDC believes that strengthening immunization in the second year of life is critical to the success of the life course approach to immunization adding that they are committed to continuing the strong collaboration with the Government of Uganda and immunization partners working in Uganda’s National Expanded Program on Immunization.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent Secretary revealed that statistics from the Health ministry indicate that an average of 288 cases of measles is reported every month, a number higher than the monthly average of 217 in 2018.
She said as much as immunisation has repeatedly demonstrated to be one of the most effective interventions to prevent disease worldwide, there is a rising trend of hesitancy among some communities.
He noted that the Ministry of Health is faced with a myth that she said has for long discouraged Ugandans to participate in the vaccination programmes.
“Every time we are introducing new vaccines we have to demystify the myth. When we introduced the COVID vaccine they started saying it causes infertility, and loss of manpower, and as a ministry, we had to fight this,” said Dr Atwine.
He revealed that there are some religious sects that don’t believe in the immunisation/vaccination of children because they think that they are introducing some satanic genes and that all those are things that we need to continuously educate our people.
Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health said Covid-19 interventions affected the coverage of routine immunisation. “We had a two-three percentage drop in the vaccination rate for routine vaccines. This meeting is helping us to come together to push this up again,” said Dr Kyabayinze. Ends