Blocked vaccination programmes put children’s lives at risk


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© Unicef / 2020 / Juan Haro


Services affected in Niger

Millions of children could die from preventable diseases due to severe disruptions to vaccination programs caused by coronavirus, experts warn.

At least 68 countries have been affected, with some completely halting vaccination campaigns.

The World Health Organization has advised many countries to suspend vaccinations to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But now it is one of many groups that are concerned about the long-term impact.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance also fear that thousands of children will die unnecessarily every day.

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There are a number of reasons why immunization services have been so severely disrupted, including:

Parents’ fear of catching Covid-19 if they leave home, health workers are diverted to deal with pandemic problems that bring vaccine supplies to clinics

“Measles is on the rise, diphtheria is on the rise, cholera is on the rise,” says Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

“So it’s going to be a real problem.

“As a world, we have defeated many of these preventable diseases for children.”

Now, it is feared that these gains will be “erased”.

In a generally crowded clinic in Niger’s capital Naimey, the waiting room is quiet.

There have been nearly 1,000 reported cases of Covid-19 in the country.

But polio, which can cause paralysis or even death, is also making a comeback – four new cases have been reported since February.

Zeinabou Tahirou sits in a pink scarf and a blue mask, cradling her little girl, Fadila.

“I was so scared to come here because of the coronavirus,” she says.

“But health workers have told me how important these vaccinations are and also what I need to do to stay safe—like washing my hands all the time.”

At least 80 million people under the age of one are at risk

Estimated number of babies missing routine vaccinations due to coronavirus pandemic:

Southeast Asia – 34.8 million
Africa – 22.9 million

Current outbreaks of preventable deadly diseases:

Nepal and Cambodia – Measles
Ethiopia – measles, cholera and yellow fever

Source: World Health Organization, Unicef, Sabin Vaccine Institute and Gavi, Vaccine Alliance

Recent modeling from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that discontinuing these types of critical health services for women and children could result in the deaths of an additional 6,000 children each day.

“What we fully expect is that these diseases will return,” said Kate O’Brien, head of WHO’s Immunization and Vaccines Department.

“And what it means … is that we are going to see unprecedented numbers of child deaths in recent times. »

But this potentially devastating situation can still be avoided “if governments act now.”

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© Unicef / 2020 / MSherpa


Queues for vaccination at a clinic in Nepal

The warnings come as world leaders virtually gather for the UK’s World Vaccine Summit on Thursday.

Countries and donor organizations will be asked to pledge $7.4 billion (5.8 billion pounds) to ensure that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, can continue to provide life-saving vaccines to some of the world’s poorest communities, both during the pandemic and beyond.

Its leader, Dr. Seth Berkley, says it is crucial to ensure that routine immunization systems are up and running again as soon as possible.

“When you have a big effect on the vaccine [services] it takes time to rebuild some of the systems around it,” he says.

“As we move quickly towards the availability of Covid-19 vaccines, these are the same systems we will use to deliver these vaccines as well.”

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