The 2020 Africa Vaccination Week has started amidst fears the COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant disruption to vaccination efforts and to the surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases on the continent.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa disclosed this in a statement in Brazzaville, Congo on Friday.
The WHO said prior disease outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies had underscored the importance of maintaining essential health services such as immunisation.
“Even brief interruptions of vaccination activities make outbreaks more likely to occur, putting children and other vulnerable groups more at risk of life-threatening diseases.
“Africa has been experiencing a resurgence of measles.
“Measles preventive mass vaccination campaigns in Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan have been suspended because of COVID-19, leaving around 21 million children who would have been vaccinated, unprotected,” the statement read in part.
It quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO, Regional Director for Africa as saying, “While the complexity and breadth of the Covid-19 response is unprecedented, we must continue to protect African children against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Let us not be blind-sided by COVID-19 and let down our guard against measles and other childhood threats.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that WHO has developed new guidelines on immunisation in the context of COVID-19 that stress the need for a dynamic approach.
The global body recommended that countries temporarily pause preventive mass vaccination campaigns.
It also urged them to prioritise the continuation of routine immunisation of children as an essential service delivery as well as adult vaccinations such as influenza for groups most at risk.
Saying that the conduct of mass vaccination campaigns will require a careful risk-benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis, the body explains that countries under total lockdown might not be able to fully implement routine health services at all sites.
“So, they may opt to preemptively scale up routine services before the announcement of total lockdown, or to ramp up once the lockdown ends.
“If immunisation services must be suspended, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be rescheduled as soon as possible, prioritising those most at risk,” said WHO.
The 2020 Africa Vaccination Week has the theme, “Vaccines Work for All.”
The campaign will focus on how vaccines – and the people who develop, deliver and receive them – are heroes by working to protect the health of everyone, everywhere.
The initiative aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases.
As part of the 2020 campaign, WHO and partners aim to: Demonstrate the value of vaccines for the health of children and communities even in the context of Covid-19.
The statement also read in part: “Demonstrate that routine immunisation is the foundation for strong, resilient health systems and universal health coverage.
“Highlight the need to build on immunisation progress while addressing gaps, including through increased investment in vaccines and immunisation.
“Moreover, as we promote Africa Vaccination Week this year, WHO honours nurses and midwives for their crucial role as early vaccine champions for new parents and parents-to-be, as we celebrate 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.’’