The theme of this year’s World Immunization Week, which takes place from April 24 to April 30, is “The Big Catch Up.” The Red Cross and health organizations around the globe are focusing on finding and vaccinating children who have missed routine vaccinations because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the past three years, the world has lost an estimated 30 years of progress in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases and every region of the world is experiencing an increase in outbreaks of diseases such as measles and rubella.
The Measles and Rubella Partnership (M&RP), of which the American Red Cross is one of the founding partners, is a global effort to eliminate these diseases through vaccinations. Founded in 2001, the M&RP is led by the American Red Cross, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The aim is to vaccinate children across the globe in hopes of erasing these devastating diseases.
Director of the American Red Cross M&RP Program Dr. Mary Agocs says that vaccines are more critical than ever at this moment in time. “We need to get the world back to at least pre-pandemic levels of global vaccination coverage. The Red Cross can mobilize our local community volunteers, especially via the 5-Point Plan, to find unvaccinated children and understand the reasons why they are missing vaccinations,” she said.
AROUND THE WORLD Since 2001, more than 3.8 billion children have been immunized against measles in over 88 countries, reducing global measles deaths by 83%. But this is not enough. It is estimated that more than 351 kids — most of them children under the age of 5 — die every day from these preventable conditions.
The Red Cross has contributed more than $188 million toward campaigns and the purchase of vaccines and materials and plays a pivotal role in vaccination campaigns worldwide. Local volunteers use mass media, rallies, door-to-door visits and educational entertainment to reach families who do not have access to routine health services. Whether in distant villages or urban settlements, these campaigns may be the only way for children to receive this lifesaving vaccine.
Through partnerships with Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies, local volunteers are mobilized and trained to conduct home-to-home visits among their neighbors, providing information on vaccination campaigns to caregivers and encouraging the vaccination of children. Since 2001, 142 campaigns in 47 countries have been directly supported by the American Red Cross with more than 86,000 volunteers mobilized.
Learn about efforts in Benin and Kenya.
MEASLES A HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS VIRUS Measles is easily spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. In 2000, measles was a top five cause of death of children under the age of 5 years, with over a million deaths annually.
Complications from measles can include pneumonia, blindness, encephalitis and diarrhea. Rubella is generally a mild disease but can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their children. Pregnant women can pass rubella to their fetuses resulting in Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), often resulting in multiple birth defects including heart problems, deafness, and blindness.
HELPING HERE AT HOME Here in the U.S., Red Cross nurses provide community education and educate legislators about the Measles and Rubella Partnership (M&RP). Red Cross nurses have been invaluable in reaching out to key members of Congress to raise awareness of the continued global disease burden due to measles and rubella and advocate for continued support for M&RP through the U.S. government.
Additional activities will also be conducted in partnership with the American Red Cross National Youth Council to help engage youth volunteers around the country through advocacy and fundraising efforts. Youth-focused programs will begin in April and will continue through June.
HOW YOU CAN HELP Learn more about this important effort here. It only costs $2 to vaccinate a child against both measles and rubella. To join the global flight, text PREVENT to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross and help us vaccinate children against measles and rubella. With just $10 you can protect the lives of 5 children. Please consider donating today to support this important effort.
The UN Foundations Shot@Life has an online petition available and it only takes a few moments to add your name to the thousands who have already signed on to urge support from Congress for immunization programs. Additional information can be found at the U.S. CDC World Immunization Week page and the WHO World Immunization Week page.
“Childhood vaccinations save an estimated 4 million lives worldwide every year,” said Dr. Agocs. “We need to work together to close the immunization gaps to prevent needless deaths, disability and sicknesses. Time is of the essence.”