SEATTLE — Measles is a viral infectious disease that is highly contagious and is easily spread through the ambient air by coming in direct contact with the infected person. The virus thrives in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat and remains active on surfaces and in the air for up to two hours. The most common symptoms associated with measles are high fever, runny nose, red eyes, sore throat, tiny white bumps in the mouth and a red rash spreading throughout the entire body.
The Effectiveness of the Measles Vaccine
The most effective way to prevent measles is the administration of the MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella). The vaccine is 97 percent effective in protecting the person from acquiring the virus following an intake of two doses. According to health experts, the best time to receive the first dose is between 12 and 15 months of age, and the second dose is most likely to be effective between the ages of four and six. The vaccine is safe for people with a healthy immune system.
In the U.S., around one in four people suffer from complications of the disease. The most vulnerable populations are children aged one to four and adults over the age of 20 who tend to encounter potentially fatal problems such as ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia and encephalitis.
An Overview of Measles Vaccination in Lebanon
Over the past two decades, the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has been working to increase the rates of measles vaccination in Lebanon to prevent further complications from creating a burden for both patients and the overall healthcare system. Since 2000, the annual mortality rate from measles in Lebanon has been reported to decrease by 90 percent as vaccines became more accessible and affordable to the population.
Following the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 and the reemergence of measles cases among children and adults in remote areas of Lebanon, the Primary Health Care Department at the MOPH launched three mop-up campaigns and four national immunization campaigns in 2014 to prevent additional cases of viral infectious diseases, particularly measles, polio and rubella. In April 2014, the National Immunization Campaign was implemented to target immunization against polio, measles and rubella.
Due to the collaborative efforts and the hard work of both UNICEF and the Lebanese MOPH, a great success was announced in October of the same year, where 91 percent of children under the age of five received the necessary vaccines; 48 percent of the total vaccinated children were Syrian. Immunization efforts in November were reported to accomplish even greater success by reaching more than 96 percent of the target population.
2018 Outbreak: Free Measles Vaccination in Lebanon
On March 19, 2018, the information office of the Ministry of Public Health released a health warning statement informing the general public of a measles outbreak occurring among unvaccinated children residing in villages in the northern districts of the country. The Ministry of Public Health was alarmed due to the sometimes fatal health risks for children.
To stop the occurrence of new cases, the MOPH took the initiative to provide free measles vaccines in all healthcare centers and dispensaries across Lebanon. To further prevent incident cases and control existing ones, teams representing UNICEF and MOPH conducted intensive measles vaccination campaigns to immunize children up to 18 years of age. MOPH also established a hotline to ensure citizens of its support throughout the outbreak and its readiness in responding to any inquiries made by parents.
New measles outbreaks in developing countries remind us of the continuous primary, secondary and tertiary efforts that are still needed to eradicate the disease on a global scale. The positive impact of free measles vaccination in Lebanon in containing the spread of the disease should be considered a wake-up call to other third world countries to take the necessary precautions before serious outbreaks cause additional burdens at a national scale.
– Lea Sacca