Wednesday, April 17, 2024

PAHO/WHO: Get back on track with childhood immunisation

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Washington –The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne, says it is imperative to close the gap that separates children from the vaccines that can protect them from dangerous diseases.

“The Americas has been a victim of its own success, but we must redouble our efforts to ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to the immunisation schedule. We have done it before and we can do it again now,” she said as PAHO and UNICEF warned that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to major backsliding on childhood vaccinations,

Official data published today by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, shows that 23 million children missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunisation services in 2020 – 3.7 million more than in 2019.

Regarding the Americas that also includes the Caribbean, Etienne acknowledged that COVID-19 restrictions on movement contributed to fewer vaccinations. In addition, many people were reluctant to go to health facilities to request vaccinations for fear of COVID-19 transmission.

PAHO also noted that fuelled by funding shortfalls, vaccine misinformation, instability and other factors, a troubling picture is also emerging in the Region of the Americas, where vaccination coverage continues to fall.

It said just 82 per cent of children are fully vaccinated with DTP, down from 91 per cent in 2016.

PAHO said that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio had stalled for several years at around 86 per cent.

“This rate is well below the 95 per cent recommended by WHO to protect against measles – often the first disease to resurge when children are not reached with vaccines – and insufficient to stop other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

It said that with many resources and personnel diverted to support the COVID-19 response, there have been significant disruptions to immunisation service provision in many parts of the world.

In some countries, clinics have been closed or hours reduced, while people may have been reluctant to seek healthcare because of fear of transmission or have experienced challenges reaching services due to lockdown measures and transportation disruptions, PAHO added.

“These are alarming numbers, suggesting the pandemic is unravelling years of progress in routine immunization and exposing millions of children to deadly, preventable diseases,” said Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“This is a wake-up call – we cannot allow a legacy of COVID-19 to be the resurgence of measles, polio and other killers. We all need to work together to help countries both defeat COVID-19, by ensuring global, equitable access to vaccines, and get routine immunisation programmes back on track. The future health and wellbeing of millions of children and their communities across the globe depends on it.” (CMC)

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