Is the COVID-19 pandemic threatening ongoing vaccination programmes?

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Mar 29, 2020, 10.37 AM(IST) Edited By: Bharat Sharma

Representative image Photograph:( AFP )

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Owing to the pandemic, the health infrastructure around the globe has been overburdened, with all response being mitigated to contain the virus and to treat the infected

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that has shut out over three billion people from their respective societies, parents of children have been forced to skip routine immunisations, a UNICEF report said. 

Owing to the pandemic, the health infrastructure around the globe has been overburdened, with all response being mitigated to contain the virus and to treat the infected. 

UNICEF also noted that many world governments may have to halt their ongoing immunisation programmes to tackle the ongoing pandemic.

Also read: WHO begins drug trials to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

Owing to new social distancing norms in place, people are being forced to “make the difficult decision to defer routine immunisation", said UNICEF’s executive director Henrietta Fore.

Many countries around the world have been battling outbreaks of measles, cholera, and polio. These are mostly countries grappling with poverty and/or war, including Somalia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, AFP reported.

"At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases," Fore added.

"Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines".

Mass vaccination campaigns are organised by governments around the world to spread awareness and to contain outbreaks for which vaccinations are available. However, in the times of social distancing, such mobilisation of people is being neglected. 

As per the recommendation by UNICEF, governments need an action plan to battle not only coronavirus, but to resume their ongoing vaccine programmes once the pandemic is under control.

World’s Health Organization programme on immunisation’s head Ann Lindstrand, spoke in sync with UNICEF’s concerns and further claimed that measles was a worrisome outbreak.

"This will be a particular challenge where vaccination coverage is already low," she told AFP. 

"There is a risk that more people will die due to the indirect impact of COVID-19, because vaccination will go down. There will surely be more measles deaths."

Also read: WHO warns of 'dramatic evolution' of coronavirus in Africa

Two outbreaks at once?

GAVI, a vaccine alliance, has also requested lower-income countries to resume routine immunisation drives. The alliance is also providing funds for the same.

"We cannot have two global outbreaks on our hands," GAVI chair Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement. 

Polio remains endemic in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

Inoculation teams in these countries are mostly viewed with suspicion, with people evading vaccinations. This is partly because of CIA presence in the region. The organisation had put in place a fake vaccination drive in a bid to track Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda’s former leader.

Afghanistan’s Taliban reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with emergency workers to contain coronavirus.

(With inputs from AFP)