The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that stopping immunisation services amid the COVID-19 pandemic could leave millions of children at health risk.
The agency via Twitter called on countries to step up the services amid the pandemic
UNICEF on Saturday began the 2020 edition of World Immunisation Week.
“Millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines against measles, diphtheria and polio due to disruptions in immunisation service as the world rushes to slow the spread of COVID-19,” it said.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it said some vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children below the age of one every year.
Given the current disruptions, UNICEF warned this could create pathways to disastrous outbreaks in 2020 and well beyond.
UNICEF Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunisation, Robin Nandy, said the stakes have never been higher as COVID-19 continues to spread globally.
She said the fates of millions of young lives hang in the balance.
A UNICEF report estimates that 182 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2018, or 20.3 million children a year on the average.
Scaling up immunization
In another statement, the World Health Organisation regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, also called on Africa countries to make provision for supplementary immunisation after the pandemic is controlled.
“When COVID-19 transmission is contained, scaling-up supplementary immunisation will be a priority to ensure we reach communities in need, particularly those most at risk,” she said.
Ms Moeti harped on the need to invest in vaccine research and development.
She revealed that through the African Vaccines Regulatory Forum (AVAREF), safe and effective vaccines are reaching communities faster.
“It took only 90 days for Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea and Zambia to license the Merck Ebola vaccine after WHO prequalification in November 2019,” she said.
Ms Moeti also advised African countries to engage in clinical trials “that meet international standards so the resulting products are adapted to meet regional needs.”
She added that through technology transfer, vaccine production in African countries should increase, while reducing the continent’s reliance on importing these essential products.