National immunisation routines ‘more critical than ever’ in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

The COVID-19 pandemic is a “stark reminder that infectious diseases know no borders," said the WHO and UNICEF in a joint statement. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated that we must not let down our guard on routine immunisations, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Europe stressed in a speech marking the World Immunisation Week 2020.

“Our overstretched health systems cannot bear any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Dr Hans Kluge warned.

“Access to vaccines for all has transformed our societies, but it is a public good that must be maintained to be effective, even in difficult times.”

World Immunisation Week, celebrated in the last week of April, aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

The goal of the campaign is to urge greater engagement around immunisation globally and the importance of vaccination in improving health and well-being of everyone.

To mark the week, the WHO and UNICEF released a joint statement, which stated that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “stark reminder that infectious diseases know no borders. All countries are vulnerable, regardless of income levels or the strength of their health care systems.”

“Across the European region, where tens of millions of people have been living in lockdown for weeks, and over 100,000 people have died, the speed and devastation of the novel coronavirus has completely upended lives.”

“The urgent need for a COVID-19 vaccine underscores the pivotal role immunisations play in protecting lives and economies,” the statement said.

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It said that as scientists around the world work to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus and health care capacities are stretched in responding to the pandemic, national routine immunisation programmes are “more critical than ever before.”

As such, if there are any temporary interruptions of routine immunisation services due to the current outbreak, healthcare providers should plan to resume immunisation services as quickly as possible after the situation stabilises.

“Governments across the region must use every opportunity possible to protect people from the many diseases for which vaccines are already available,” it concluded.

“We know that vulnerability to infectious diseases anywhere is a threat to public health everywhere,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

“It is critical that routine immunisation programmes continue during this crisis, while adequately protecting health workers and individuals receiving vaccinations,” she added, saying that reaching the most vulnerable children who have missed routine immunisations in the past should be prioritised.

Kluge stressed that “we can prevent further impact of COVID-19 on our health care systems by assuring that individuals of all ages remain vaccinated according to national schedules”.

“I urge countries to maintain immunisation service delivery and drive demand for vaccination, through the life-course, even at this difficult time,” he added.

Immunisation is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions.

However, there are still some 20 million children in the world today who are not receiving the vaccines they need.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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