Experts at Rwanda Biomedical Centre have warned about a decline in the uptake of life-saving vaccines, particularly young girls who missed out because schools were closed.
This is due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While a comprehensive study is yet to be done to determine extent of the damage and identify those who missed out, RBC experts say interrupted vaccinations include HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine.
The three-dose vaccination that is carried out three times a year on girls aged between 11-14 years old, Hepatitis C vaccine usually given during public campaigns or specifically to people in dire need of it such as HIV/Aids patients.
These vaccines require campaigning and programming as they are not given on routine basis. HPV vaccine has been being given to schoolgirls for 10 years, taking place in schools but given that they were shut for about eight months, the exercise did not take place.
The reasons for disrupted services vary. Even when services are offered, some people are either unable to access them because of reluctance to leave home, transport interruptions, economic hardships, restrictions on movement, or fear of being exposed to people with Covid-19.
Many health workers are unavailable because of redeployment to Covid response or,en, lack of protective equipment.
According to data by WHO these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, already hampered by a decade of stalling coverage.
Unicef and WHO data on vaccine coverage estimates for 2019 shows that improvements such as expansion of the HPV vaccine to 106 countries and greater protection for children against more diseases are in danger of lapsing.
For example, preliminary data for the first four months of 2020 points to a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) according to WHO.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunised than ever before,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations could be far greater than Covid-19 itself. But it does not have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we call on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programmes continue.”
Due to the pandemic, at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks in 2021 and beyond.
We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume public awareness campaigns to encourage voluntary vaccination. We cannot trade one health crisis for another. It is important to prioritise expanding immunisation to reach the missed communities.