Sunday, July 3, 2022

Covid-19 stalls childhood vaccinations

Botswana has lost ground in the campaign to inoculate children against vaccine‐preventable diseases (VPD), following the Covid-19 pandemic – the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed.

Based on country and individual-reported sources obtained during the pandemic period, the health agency notes that these disruptions will be “will be felt for decades to come”.

“In Botswana, as in many other countries, access to health and vaccination services has been affected by the pandemic. In 2021, the vaccination rate for children under 1 year dropped for all antigens used in routine immunisation,” says WHO.

While Botswana is among several other countries to have experienced an impact in routine childhood immunisation, disruptions of routine health services are likely to increase morbidity and mortality, leaving women and children particularly vulnerable.

A VPD is an infectious disease for which an effective preventive vaccine exists. According to WHO, some of the most common and serious vaccine-preventable diseases tracked by the health agency are measles, tetanus, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and mumps. Who cautions that in order to stem these disruptions, Botswana must find synergies of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out and childhood immunisation so that Covid-19 delivery “is not carried out at the cost of childhood and other vaccination services.” Among other things, WHO proposes crucial actions to address catch-up immunisation particularly for vulnerable communities.

An outbreak of VPDs in Botswana could be catastrophic in the age groups most at risk. Now, as Botswana limps towards economic recovery and normalcy, WHO advises on the need to immediately turn the attention “to routine immunisation against common childhood diseases, such as measles.”

Childhood immunisation is regarded as one of the most cost‐effective public health measure which is vital in reducing morbidity and mortality rates for VPDs. WHO Africa’s Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme estimates that that every P11 spent on childhood immunisations globally returns P484 in economic benefits. If a child acquires a vaccine-preventable disease and dies from it, the death is considered a vaccine-preventable death.

“Child vaccination coverage could cause an increased number of susceptible individuals and raise the risk of outbreak‐prone VPDs such as measles, polio, and pertussis,” says the health agency.

Medical health practitioners also say there should be public health and educational interventions across Botswana to ensure adequate catch-up of delayed and missed immunisations necessitated by the pandemic.

An Open Access article entitled “Impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on routine immunisation services: evidence of disruption and recovery from 170 countries and territories” highlights that of the 30 out of 47 Africa member states which availed data: “there were signs of disruption to routine immunisation sessions in 17 (57%) member states and outreach services partially or completely suspended in 17 countries. Reports for seven (23%) of 30 countries indicated challenges with vaccine supply, and 11 (37%) of 30 countries indicated challenges with vaccine demand because of fear of Covid-19 exposure, transportation barriers, and misinformation.”

Although immunisation programmes are known to have been severely affected in Botswana since the beginning of the pandemic, the full extent of disruption and ensuing consequences are not fully studied. Child immunisation prevents two to three million deaths annually worldwide from diseases such as tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), influenza and measles.

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