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Immunization services begin slow recovery from COVID-19 disruptions, though millions of children remain at risk from deadly diseases – UNICEF

3 month old Umalkhayr receives an oral polio vaccine in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (CNW Group/Canadian Unicef Committee)


228 million people —mostly children—at risk for diseases such as measles, yellow fever and polio

GENEVA, NEW YORK and TORONTOApril 26, 2021 /CNW/ – While immunization services have started to recover from disruptions caused by COVID-19, millions of children remain vulnerable to deadly diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance warned today during World Immunization Week, highlighting the urgent need for a renewed global commitment to improve vaccination access and uptake.

A four year old girl receives Vitamin A from a polio vaccinator in Lahore, Pakistan. (CNW Group/Canadian Unicef Committee)

A WHO survey has found that, despite progress when compared to the situation in 2020, more than one third of respondent countries (37%) still report experiencing disruptions to their routine immunization services.

Mass immunization campaigns are also disrupted. According to new data, 60 of these lifesaving campaigns are currently postponed in 50 countries, putting around 228 million people – mostly children – at risk for diseases such as measles, yellow fever and polio. Over half of the 50 affected countries are in Africa, highlighting protracted inequities in people’s access to critical immunization services.

Campaigns to immunize against measles, which is one of the most contagious diseases and can result in large outbreaks wherever people are unvaccinated, are the most impacted. Measles campaigns account for 23 of the postponed campaigns, affecting an estimated 140 million people. Many have now been delayed for over a year.

“As COVID-19 vaccines are at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it is more critical than ever that children maintain access to other life-saving vaccines to prevent devastating outbreaks of preventable diseases that have started to spread alongside the pandemic,” said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. “We must sustain this energy on vaccine roll-out to also help children catch up on their measles, polio and other vaccines. Lost ground means lost lives.”

As a result of gaps in vaccination coverage, serious measles outbreaks have recently been reported in countries including the Democratic Republic of the CongoPakistan and Yemen, while likely to occur elsewhere as growing numbers of children miss out on lifesaving vaccines, the agencies warn. These outbreaks are happening in places already grappling with conflict situations as well as service disruptions due to ongoing response measures to COVID-19.

The supply of vaccines and other equipment is also essential for child vaccinations. Due to disruptions at the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic, UNICEF delivered 2.01 billion vaccine doses in 2020, compared to 2.29 billion in 2019.

New global immunization strategy aims to save over 50 million lives

To help tackle these challenges and support the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO UNICEF, Gavi and other partners today launched the Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030), an ambitious new global strategy to maximize the lifesaving impact of vaccines through stronger immunization systems.

The Agenda focuses on vaccination throughout life, from infancy through to adolescence and older age. If fully implemented, it will avert an estimated 50 million deaths, according to WHO – 75% of them in low- and lower-middle income countries.

Target to be achieved by 2030 include:

  • Achieve 90% coverage for essential vaccines given in childhood and adolescence[i]
  • Halve the number of children completely missing out on vaccines
  • Complete 500 national or subnational introductions of new or under-utilized vaccines – such as those for COVID-19, rotavirus, or human papillomavirus (HPV)

Urgent action needed from all immunization stakeholders

To achieve IA2030’s ambitious goals, WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and partners are calling for bold action:

  • World leaders and the global health and development community should make explicit commitments to IA2030 and invest in stronger immunization systems, with tailored approaches for fragile and conflict-affected countries. Immunization is a vital element of an effective health care system, central to pandemic preparedness and response, and key to preventing the burden of multiple epidemics as societies reopen

  • All countries should develop and implement ambitious national immunization plans that align with the IA2030 framework, and increase investments to make immunization services accessible to all

  • Donors and governments should increase investments in vaccine research and innovation, development, and delivery, focused on the needs of underserved populations

  • The pharmaceutical industry and scientists, working with governments and funders, should continue to accelerate vaccine R&D, ensure a continuous supply of affordable vaccines to meet global needs, and apply lessons from COVID-19 to other diseases

 

SOURCE Canadian Unicef Committee

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