African governments should establish robust systems to facilitate resumption of immunization services that had been disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said that scaling up immunization during the pandemic era is key to reducing the death toll from ailments that affect vulnerable groups like children in the continent.
“COVID-19 has disrupted the delivery of essential health services, including routine immunization, “Moeti said in a statement released in Nairobi.
“This puts people at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, and threatens the gains we have made to date. As we prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine, we must ensure that lifesaving vaccines we already have reach those in need,” she added.
Moeti’s remarks came in the wake of a virtual meeting of WHO affiliated with African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) held from Nov. 18 to 19 to discuss the status of immunization in the continent alongside preparedness for a future COVID-19 vaccine.
Statistics from WHO indicate that in 2019, immunization coverage in Africa stagnated by 74 percent for the third dose of diphtheria tetanus pertussis containing vaccine (DPT3) and at 69 percent for the first dose of the measles vaccine-far below the continent’s target of 90 percent.
According to WHO, COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the gaps in immunization coverage in 2020, hence putting millions of children at risk of succumbing to a host of infectious diseases.
It said that an additional 1.37 million children across the African region missed the vaccine against Tuberculosis and an extra 1.32 million children below the age of one missed their first dose of measles vaccine between January and August when compared to the same period in 2019.
Likewise, immunization campaigns covering measles, yellow fever, polio and other infectious diseases have been postponed in at least 15 African countries this year due to the pandemic. “Collective action to strengthen immunization is needed, now more than ever, as we approach the end of the Decade of Vaccines and COVID-19 limits access to essential health services across Africa,” said Helen Rees, chair of RITAG.
Richard Mihigo, program manager for Vaccine -Preventable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, said that COVID-19 was a wakeup call for governments to scale up immunization and protect vulnerable groups from untimely deaths.