Nearly 15 million children have been vaccinated against measles in Ethiopia in an effort by the health authorities to maintain essential health services, even as they battle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nationwide campaign which wrapped up this weekend was conducted under the leadership of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health with support from World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccination campaign was initially scheduled for April but was suspended due to the pandemic and resumed in July.

The campaign ran for 10 days, which is longer than similar past campaigns to limit crowding and risks of COVID-19 infections. Health workers wearing face masks delivered the measles vaccine in open and well-ventilated areas. Other measures such as physical distancing, handwashing and temperature checks were also implemented in compliance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

Ahead of the immunization drive targeting children aged 9–59 months, vaccinators were trained on the COVID-19 prevention measures, communities informed of the campaign and encouraged to turn up, and vaccination supplies as well as personal protective equipment and sanitizers were shipped.

The campaign’s target was 15 million children and it attained 96% coverage (14.4 million), showing that even with an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, countries can continue to carry out life-saving mass vaccinations.

“By taking the appropriate measures, we can continue to provide essential services while striving to end this pandemic. Millions of children are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and waiting for the end of COVID-19 to restart immunization campaigns is a gamble we cannot afford,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.