Covid disrupts measles vaccination

A health worker gives an oral polio vaccine to a child in Masaka during a mass immunisation exercise in 2019. Many children countrywide are missing out on Measles vaccination due to Covid-19 disruptions. PHOTO/ MARTINS E. SSEKWEYAMA

What you need to know:

  • Health officials say parents are not taking their children for vaccination following a ban on movement.

The disruptions caused by Covid-19 are limiting access to routine vaccination of children against preventable diseases such as measles as efforts have been diverted to preventing and treating Covid-19 patients

At nine months, children are supposed to be vaccinated against measles to make their bodies immune or resistant to the infectious disease.
Dr Paul Ajuk, the director of Hoima Regional Referral Hospital told Daily Monitor yesterday that few parents are able to bring their children to the facility for routine vaccination.
“Vaccination has slowed down. Not many children are being vaccinated because of limited movement, the transport is not there and people fear getting the disease (Covid-19) from the hospital,” Dr Ajuk said without giving specifics of how many children are brought per day.
But Dr Emmanuel Tugaineyo, the director of  Mbale Regional Referral Hospital said : “That is a service that was never interrupted. As a hospital, we have the vaccine, those who come, we vaccinate their children.”
He added: “I do not have the statistics but it is a given that if parents do not bring their children for immunisation, measles has not yet been eradicated. If you do not bring your child for immunisation, the child is bound to get measles.”
Dr Ajuk suggested that when the lockdown is lifted, there might be a need to offer booster doses for children who missed vaccines for a prolonged period of time.
Usually, immunisation campaigns remind parents and guardians to take their children for all routine programmes.
But most parents fear contracting Covid-19 and are finding it difficult to take their children below one year for the much needed vaccination against measles.
In Uganda, trained health workers offer routine immunisation services at health facilities and selected community outreach sites.
In case there is a need to interrupt disease transmission and spread by boasting population immunity, supplementary immunisation activities are also organised and conducted periodically but all these have been disrupted  with  the ban on movement imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.
New data by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and World Health Organisation (WHO) released last week showed that worldwide, more than 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines through routine health services in 2020, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019.
 “Up to 17 million children – likely did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already immense inequities in vaccine access. Most of these children live in communities affected by conflict, in under-served remote places, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations including limited access to basic health and key social services,” the report reads in part.
Ms Henrietta Fore, the Unicef executive director, in a media statement last week, said: “Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight to immunise children against preventable child illness, including with the widespread measles outbreaks two years ago. The pandemic has made a bad situation worse.”
In a press statement last week, Dr Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said: “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.”
Immunisation is among the most successful and cost effective public health interventions in preventing a child from dying before celebrating his or her first birthday.


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