The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), together with the Australian High Commission, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, launched the National Measles and Rubella Supplementary Immunization Activity (MR-SIA) on Friday at SIBC. Ten children were present at the launch and received their first measles and rubella vaccines to kick off the activity.
With the theme of the “Big Catch Up”, MHMS Minister Dr. Culwick Togamana outlined how the MR-SIA launch marked an important milestone for us in recovering from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, not only in Solomon but also globally, the coverage of the childhood immunization program dropped significantly, which has left many children at high risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“Globally, it is estimated that at least 61 million doses of measles vaccine were missed due to delays or interruptions of supplementary immunization activities. In the Solomon Islands, the coverage for measles and rubella is suboptimal, at only around 40% coverage with two doses. However, the catch-up campaign conducted last year protected more children”, said Dr. Togamana.
“This integrated MR-SIA will target all infants and children from 6 months to under the age of five years (59 months). This huge undertaking will target around 75,000 infants and children in all the provinces. The MR vaccine will be administered to all, irrespective of their immunization status, in a short period of time (3–4 weeks). This is necessary to increase the protection of all the children at the same time in order that the virus most likely cannot find its way to affect our children”, explained Dr. Togamana.
Dr Togamana highlighted the importance of working together with partners in addressing diseases of public health significance.
“I would like to convey the MHMS’ great appreciation to the Australian Government through DFAT for its commitment to fund the implementation of the campaign.”
He also thanked UNICEF for its support in procuring the vaccines and supplies; WHO for the training and supplies; the World Bank for its support for the recruitment of human resources and data management; and Australia’s National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) for actively supporting the microplanning and refresher training at both the national and provincial levels.
Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner Ms. Sally-Anne Vincent thanked the “MHMS and the Government of Solomon Islands for the leadership and drive on the immunisation campaign that Australia is so pleased to be able to support.”
Ms Vincent also encouraged all communities to participate in the Big Catch Up as “Immunisation is the most cost effective and the most important health intervention to protect lives and livelihoods for the men, woman, and children of the world, and here in Solomon Islands.”
Dr. Togamana said prior to the introduction of the measles vaccines, measles infection claimed millions of lives each year, especially among children. With the widespread use of the vaccine and immunization coverage globally, the number of deaths has declined significantly, and many countries have eliminated the disease, something we as a country aspire to achieve.
“But for Solomon Islands and the world to be free from measles, the cycle of infection, which is sustained through an unbroken chain of human-to-human transmission, must be interrupted and stopped. This is why getting all our children immunized against measles is extremely important”, Dr. Togamana said.
“We aim for 100% coverage or close to 100% to protect our children. Coverage must be greater than 95% so that the chances of an imported measles outbreak are minimal. Under our national immunization policy, the specific objective for measles and rubella is to eliminate measles and rubella by 2025 by achieving and maintaining at least 95% of target children receiving two (2) doses of measles and rubella-containing vaccine (MR), with the first dose given at 12 months old and the second dose at 18 months old or receiving both doses by the time of school entry”, Dr. Togamana further explained.
He explained that during the campaign, all children will be given vitamin A for increased immunity, as we know vitamin A deficiency is high among our children.
He highlighted that with Solomon Islands hosting the 2023 Pacific Games in around three months’ time, the risk of the importation of measles is very high, as measles cases have been reported from some countries that will be participating in the games.
The Minister also thanked the health workers “from the program level right down to the provinces and clinics, who will be directly engaged in supporting and delivering the vaccines to children who need them.”
The MR-SIA will be conducted in the health facilities and on temporary sites. Information about the sites will be provided by our health promotion teams, and messages will be relayed by radio, TV spots, health staff, churches, community leaders, etc. We encourage all families with children aged from 6 months to under the age of five years (59 months) to participate.