UNICEF to World Leaders: Don’t abandon vaccinations despite coronavirus

World Health Organisation (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot
World Health Organisation (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot

As the world continues to battle rising cases of Covid-19, the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), has called on world leaders, to ensure that lifesaving health interventions and immunisation against other ailments do not suffer major setbacks.

The international organisation said countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

In a statement published on its site on Thursday, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health services as health workers are diverted to support the response.

She also said the physical distancing policy is leading parents to make difficult decisions on routine immunisation.

“Physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunization,” she said. “Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions.”

“Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines,” she added.

Vaccinations

According to Ms Fore, critical life-saving services like immunizstion will likely be disrupted as the pandemic progresses.

This she said, is at the highest risk of children from poorest families in conflicts affected countries.

“As the pandemic progresses, critical life-saving services, including immunisation, will likely be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are sorely needed.

“At the greatest risk are children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters.

“We are particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria, and South Sudan.

“Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering. At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19,” she said.

Planning ahead

She urged all countries to begin rigorous planning on how to intensify immunisation activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control

“In the days to come, governments may have to temporarily postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns in many places to ensure that the delivery of immunisation services does not contribute to COVID-19 spread, and to follow recommendations on physical distancing.

“UNICEF strongly recommends that all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunisation activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control.

“These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children.

“To successfully roll-out vaccines against COVID -19 when they become available, we need to ensure that our immunisation programmes remain robust and can reach those that will need these vaccines the most.”



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