Can’t compromise on immunization
The fight against Covid-19 is still going on as many countries are reporting surge in cases at one point of time or another. Though experts have been telling us that the pandemic has lost its severity but the fact remains that many new variants are making their presence felt and the people especially those who are still unvaccinated have to bear the brunt.
It is a fact that the entire population across the globe has not witnessed vaccinations and that people still are vulnerable to the threat that still remains lingering over our heads. Ironically, the pandemic exposed the fault lines in health systems and national routine immunisation programmes around the world which is making things even worse.
Secondly, the covid vaccination programmes have put the routine vaccinations on hold at some places or has slowed down the processes which has led to other complications.
A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report showed that the pandemic fuelled the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccine coverage rates. These declines threaten to undo the exceptional efforts made in preventing and controlling the devastating burden of vaccine preventable diseases globally.
Routine immunisation has prevented two to three million deaths yearly. Of the lives saved, 800,000 were in the Africa region. Routine immunisation has led to a drastic reduction in diseases like neonatal tetanus and measles. And bacterial meningitis (type A) and polio have virtually been eliminated across the continent.
The repercussions of the pandemic on routine immunisation programmes in the African region are yet to be fully realised. What we do know so far is that the pandemic has resulted in substantial disruptions to national routine immunisation programmes. As a result, the continent is seeing an increased number of outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.
African countries had nearly eliminated the deadly form of meningitis type A. But a four-month-long meningitis outbreak was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2021. It accounted for 2,665 cases, claiming 205 lives. This resurgence has been linked with the suspension of meningitis vaccination campaigns at the height of the COVID pandemic.
In February 2022, Malawi reported its first wild case of poliovirus type 1 in 30 years. A second case followed in Mozambique three months later. The outbreaks sparked mass polio vaccination campaigns across southern Africa.
UNICEF and the WHO have warned of the heightened risk for measles outbreaks, given widening immunisation gaps.
Currently, Zimbabwe is contending with a devastating measles outbreak. Within five months, there have been 6,551 confirmed measles cases and 704 related deaths.
These emerging outbreaks are a matter of great concern. They call for urgent and sustained public health interventions. Unless these are put in place, the compounding effects of the pandemic could derail regional progress towards the global immunisation targets that secure the health and wellbeing of infants and children.
The resurgence of deadly vaccine preventable diseases underscores the importance of maintaining high vaccination coverage rates. Children everywhere must have access to all the recommended lifesaving vaccines they need.
The disruptions observed during the COVID pandemic also highlight the importance of establishing resilient health systems. Systems must be able to withstand acute and prolonged shocks while delivering essential health services like immunisation programmes.