By Sharon Atieno

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, there is significant disruption to vaccination efforts and surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases in the African continent, and as such, African countries have been urged not to lose focus on vaccination efforts so as to protect the children.

“While the complexity and breadth of the COVID-19 response is unprecedented, we must continue to protect African children against vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “Let us not be blind-sided by COVID-19 and let down our guard against measles and other childhood threats.”

Despite significant progress in immunization, one in four African children remain under-immunized, the ongoing pandemic is set to worsen the situation.

Already, COVID-19 has led to suspension of measles preventive mass vaccination campaigns in Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan, leaving around 21 million children who would have been vaccinated, unprotected.

Prior disease outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies have underscored the importance of maintaining essential health services such as immunization and anti-malaria campaigns.

The new guidelies by WHO on immunization during this pandemic stress the need for a dynamic approach and recommends temporarily pausing of preventative mass vaccination campaigns. However, they urge countries to prioritize the continuation of routine immunization of children as an essential service delivery, as well as adult vaccination such as influenza for groups most at risk.

This year’s Africa Vaccination Week started on 24th April 2020, with the theme being #Vaccines Work for All. The campaign will focus on how vaccines – and the people who develop, deliver and receive them – are heroes by working to protect the health of everyone, everywhere.  The initiative – aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases.  

As part of the 2020 campaign, WHO and partners aim to: demonstrate the value of vaccines for the health of children and communities even in the context of Covid-19; show that routine immunization is the foundation for strong, resilient health systems and universal health coverage; and highlight the need to build on immunization progress while addressing gaps, including through increased investment in vaccines and immunization.