A shot towards measles-rubella free J&K

More than 43 lakh children between age group of 9 months to 15 years will be covered under the vaccination campaign that aims to eliminate the diseases from the state

The state government has started preparations for an intensive vaccination campaign aimed at eliminating measles and congenital rubella syndrome, caused by rubella virus, from the state. Run by department of Family Welfare and Mother and Child Health in J&K with active support from Integrated Child Development Scheme, World Health Organization and UNICEF, the campaign is meant to create awareness about the vaccination program which would start from September 1 and cover lakhs of children. While two doses of measles vaccine, given at 9-12 months and 16-24 months have already been part of national immunisation program, the rubella vaccine was included as part of the program last year.

What is measles?

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases ever known and is an important cause of death and disability among young children worldwide. Caused by measles virus (morbilivirus) it is highly contagious and spreads through cough and sneeze of infected person. It may also spread to non-infected persons though saliva and nasal secretions of those infected. A person who is not immunized have 90 percent chances of getting infection from an infected person, which signifies serious contagious nature of the disease. Once infected, the person suffers high grade fever and develops rashes on body, starting usually with face. The rash looks flat with small reddish spots that may turn white. This itchy rash then spreads to neck and other body parts. Other symptoms are cough, sore throat, inflamed eyes and runny nose. According to Public Health Foundation, one in every three infected people experience complications from measles which include mild to severe diahorrhea, inflammation of brain, blindness and pneumonia.

What is rubella?

Rubella is a milder disease that causes similar symptoms as measles. However, a rubella illness can cause serious issues in pregnant women for her unborn child. According to Center for disease Control (CDC) if an unvaccinated pregnant woman gets infected with rubella virus she can have a miscarriage (the loss of a pregnancy during first 23 weeks), or her baby can die just after birth. Also, she can pass the virus to her unborn baby who can develop serious birth defects such as heart problems, loss of hearing and eyesight, intellectual disability, and liver or spleen damage. The chances of developing complications with pregnancy in case of rubella infection are very high.

Towards measles-rubella free J&K

Once the symptoms start, there is no way to get rid of them. Medicines may alleviate symptoms but vaccination is the only way to prevent both measles and rubella. It is important to vaccinate child against measles and rubella to prevent them from getting infection and spreading the infection to others. Although in J&K, children are administered measles vaccine as part of routine immunization, the cover is not total. According to National Family Health Survey-4, only 75 percent of children in J&K, less than 2 years of age, have been fully immunized. The remaining 25 percent form vulnerable group which has missed schedules of immunization. In India, nearly 2.5 lakh children suffered from measles last year and as many as 49,000 of them lost life to the disease. It is a major killer in children still, although over the years, with intensive vaccination, the incidences of both infection and deaths have decreased. Cautioning against measles and rubella, head department of pediatrics at Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, Prof Kaiser Ahmed, said, these diseases have morbidity and mortality both, but mass vaccination will help in moving towards their eradication. Speaking about rubella he termed it a very “awful disease” that affects all organs of a fetus. Prof Kaiser, along with other experts underlined the importance of elimination of viruses causing measles and rubella. “If it is harboured in any member of the community, adult or child, it is a serious risk,” Prof Kaiser said. While the awareness campaign in J&K has already started vaccination has been planned for September 1 for two months. Nearly 43.33 lakh children between age group of 9 months and 15 years will be covered under the campaign. It will run for six weeks, initially in schools for first four weeks and later in community through outreach sessions. The school authorities too have been involved in the awareness program. When this campaign phase is over, the vaccine will be introduced in routine immunization (RI) replacing the currently given two doses of measles vaccine at 9 to 12 months and 16-24 months. Importantly, vaccination will be provided free of cost. In some immunization schedules in private sector, the measles-rubella vaccine is already a part, administered as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) or just MR.

Ensure your child gets a shot

Another senior paediatrician said quite a number of parents have expressed concern about vaccination schedules announced by the schools. “Parents have a lot of questions, primary being whether the vaccine is safe,” said the paediatrician. He said parents need to be assured that the vaccine is safe. He said even if children have been already vaccinated for measles and rubella, or even if parents don’t remember whether these vaccines were included in their immunization schedule, children must still get the shot. “It works like herd immunity and the same schedule and pattern is being planned as was in case of polio campaign,” the policy document of MR campaign states. A doctor said the union health ministry has set an ambitious target of eliminating measles and controlling rubella syndrome by 2020 and hence every state needs to be active participant in the campaign so as to create a “solid wall of immunity” in all children up to 15 years of age. “That can be achieved only if we all become part of this campaign,” said the doctor.