As COVID-19 Disrupts Routine Childhood Immunization, WHO, Others Urge Countries to Up Vaccination

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World Health Organization (WHO)

By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos

World Health Organisation ( WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi have called on countries to safely deliver routine immunization against deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.

Explaining why they made the call, the group said that at least 80 million children under one year are at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disrupts routine vaccination efforts.

   In a Press release dated 22nd May 2020, WHO wrote: “COVID 19 is disrupting life-saving immunization services around the world, putting millions of children – in rich and poor countries alike – at risk of diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio. 

“This stark warning comes from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit on 4 June, at which world leaders will come together to help maintain immunization programmes and mitigate the impact of the pandemic in lower-income countries.

“According to data collected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries.”

The global health and safety campaigners said that since March 2020, routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of expanded programs on immunization (EPI) in the 1970s. 

They stressed that more than half (53%) of the 129 countries where data were available reported moderate-to-severe disruptions, or a total suspension of vaccination services during March-April 2020.

 “Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said.   “Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”

As Gbebreyesus pointed out: “At the 4 June Global Vaccine Summit in London, donors will pledge their support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to sustain and accelerate this lifesaving work in some of the most vulnerable countries. 

“From the bottom of my heart, I urge donors to fully fund the Alliance. These countries, these children especially, need vaccines, and they need Gavi.”

The group observed that the reasons for disrupted services vary,  and noted that some parents are reluctant to leave home because of restrictions on movement, lack of information or because they fear infection with the COVID-19 virus. 

“And many health workers are unavailable because of restrictions on travel, or redeployment to COVID response duties, as well as a lack of protective equipment,” they stated.

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