As health workers are diverted to support the Covid-19 response, “physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunisation”, according to the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
Henrietta Fore said that flight cancellations and trade restrictions have also “severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines”.
UNICEF is “particularly concerned” about countries battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while simultaneously responding to COVID-19; ie, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan.
“At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Ms Fore.
UNICEF is working with global vaccine suppliers to ensure production, and providing support to governments to maintain vaccine supplies during the pandemic.
While countries may have to temporarily postpone mass vaccination campaigns to limit spreading COVID-19, UNICEF “strongly recommends” governments begin “rigorous planning now”, to intensify immunisation programmes once the pandemic is under control.
“These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritise the poorest and most vulnerable children,” Ms Fore explained.
To successfully roll-out an effective vaccine against COVID-19, immunisation programmes must remain robust and accessible to those that most need inoculations, she added.