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Many children at risk as COVID-19 disrupts vaccination pace - WHO, UNICEF warn

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

.....Say measles outbreak looms with disruption of 30 campaigns

.....Alarmed at 80% chance of children not getting full vaccines

Many children at risk as COVID-19 disrupts vaccination pace - WHO, UNICEF warn

By Charles Joseph

Abuja, July 15, 2020 - Many children around the World now face dire heath risks as the COVID-19 pandemic had caused grave disruptions to vaccination of children resulting from dearth of supply of vaccines.

For the first time in 28 years, the WHO and UNICEF reported a reduction in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3).

“This is the first time in 28 years that the world could see a reduction in DTP3 coverage – the marker for immunisation coverage within and across countries.’’

The World Health Organisation and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have warned of this alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world.

WHO, in a statement posted on its website, stated that the decline was due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been hampered by a decade of stalling coverage.

The latest data on vaccine coverage estimates from WHO and UNICEF for 2019 shows that improvements such as the expansion of the HPV vaccine to 106 countries and greater protection for children against more diseases are in danger of lapsing.

The statement quoted Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, as saying: “Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunised than ever before.

“But the pandemic has put those gains at risk.

“The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programmes continue.”

The WHO further warned of an impending measles outbreak in 2020 and beyond with at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns at risk of being cancelled.

The disruption were majorly attributed to Covid-19 according to a new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey, conducted in collaboration with the US Centres for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“The survey stated that three quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunisation programmes as of May 2020.

“The reasons for disrupted services vary. Even when services are offered, people are either unable to access them because of reluctance to leave home, transport interruptions, economic hardships, restrictions on movement, or fear of being exposed to people with COVID-19.

“Many health workers are also unavailable because of restrictions on travel or redeployment to COVID response duties as well as a lack of protective equipment.’’

The statement also quoted UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, as saying “COVID-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge.

“We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programmes before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”

The statement further stated that progress on immunisation coverage was stalling before COVID-19 hit, at 85 per cent for DTP3 and measles vaccines.

“The likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time she reaches the age of five is less than 20 per cent.

“In 2019, nearly 14 million children missed out on life-saving vaccines such as measles and DTP3; most of these children live in Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services.

“Two-thirds of them are concentrated in 10 middle- and low-income countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Philippines.

“Children in middle-income countries account for an increasing share of the burden,’’ it stated.

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