COVID-19, infants and immunisation services

As countries around the world face unprecedented difficulties due to COVID-19 pandemic, there have been other health related issues that have been put on the back burner, not by choice but out of real time disruption.

As countries around the world face unprecedented difficulties due to COVID-19 pandemic, there have been other health related issues that have been put on the back burner, not by choice but out of real time disruption. The World Health Organization (WHO) had also expressed concern over the fact that all attention given to COVID-19 had indeed disrupted life-saving immunisation services around the world, putting millions of children – in rich and poor countries alike – at risk of diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio. The warning comes ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit scheduled for June 4 when world leaders will come together to help maintain immunisation programmes and mitigate the impact of the pandemic in lower-income countries.

According to data collected by WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, provision of routine immunisation services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of one living in these countries. It has been reported that since March 2020, routine childhood immunisation services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of expanded programmes on immunisation in the 1970s.

The UN says 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. Though the reasons for disrupted services vary from country to country, many of the parents are reluctant to leave home because of lockdowns and restrictions on movement of people apart from lack of information. Most of the parents also fear infection with the COVID-19 virus while many health workers are unavailable because of restrictions on travel, or redeployment to COVID response duties, as well as a lack of protective equipment.

It has been observed that due to COVID-19, the progress made on immunisation is now under threat, risking the resurgence of diseases like measles and polio. To help mitigate the problem, UNICEF is appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines. On the situation, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore commented that the world cannot let “our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases”.  WHO has monitored the situation and has now issued advice to help countries determine how and when to resume mass vaccination campaigns. Despite the challenges, several countries are making special efforts to continue immunisation. In India, by mid April last, it was reported that infant immunization drive came to a halt over COVID-19 fear in many states. India has around 600,000 villages according to the 2011 census. It was believed that by March, an estimated five million children might have missed out on vaccination and the number must have increased in April and May. And no one seems sure how many infants must have missed out scheduled vaccinations since March and during the enforcement of the lockdown.

 
 
 

 

First Published:May 27, 2020, 1:28 a.m.