DANGER LOOMS AS COVID-19 SUSPENDS VACCINATION PROGRAMS ACROSS THE GLOBE
The conception of most countries which are doing superlatively well were achieved by the fusion of innovations and nimble minds which wisely gestated ideas, and through constant nurturing eventually birth them in the ward of preparation. Invariably, strategies, innovations and a drive greater than the incision created by the pained scalpel of recession, wars, financial meltdown and nuclear disturbing necessitated the transitions from the first stage of sedentary living to the digitized world we live in.
Truth is, if these nations were able to surmount the desperate siren calls of their citizen’s plea for help by rushing their recovery strategies into the emergency unit of implementation and salvaged situation at one time, a repetition of this can be achieved effortlessly, COVID-19 and all. Unarguably, multiple sectors across board have had an appreciably morbid bites of the effects of the pandemic with most decisions being put on the back burner to address the dominant issue served on a deathly platter by COVID-19. The health sector has by far had a rather harrowing experience and recount of event.
As the world desperately gasp for air and craves resuscitation and an injection of life into their economies, the virus is unearthing Africa’s preexisting health problems where previous medical tourists in the persons of some leaders who would have hitherto flown out of the country for their medical checkups, have been grounded like most international flights to face the stark reality of their country’s health predicament, as once donor countries are in a tight bun suturing their own internal wounds.
A survey by the Pan-African Afrobarometer research network revealed that more than half of all Africans go without the necessary medical care at least once in a given year. Also, four in every ten patients encounter long waits or never cared for, whereas one in eight have to bribe their way through to be cared for. It might seem déjà vu moments for most people as they have had close shave with death due to the aforementioned reasons but the ebb and flow of such cases haven’t died down yet and are bound to escalate in this pandemic times where people are being advised to stay home if they’re having a ‘mere’ headache.
Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right for all, but the strain that the pandemic has placed on the healthcare systems everywhere has affected primary healthcare, which according to the WHO “ensures people receive comprehensive care ranging from promotion and prevention to treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care as close as feasible to people’s everyday environment”. With everyone’s attention on the health crisis, primary healthcare has been subjected to a rather precarious position.
Torn between getting immunized and being cautious.
In 2018, over 13 million children globally did not receive vaccines even before the pandemic disrupted immunizations according to UNICEF. Vaccinations which are heavily campaigned for and publicized particularly in Africa could see a sharp decline and a spiraling effect of an outbreak due to the disruption. Most mothers are in a state of confusion as the date for the children’s next immunization draws near.
Unlike rich countries where parents make appointment to follow a routine vaccine schedule at private pediatric offices or clinics, most African countries and some western countries have to engage in mass inoculations for a large number of children and infants in schools, market places and churches. Dr. Robin Nandy, the chief of immunization for UNICEF echoed the sentiment of some parents by saying that,
“in our quest to vaccinate kids, we shouldn’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19. But we don’t want a country that’s recovering from an outbreak… to then be dealing with a measles or diphtheria outbreak”.
Despite the note of caution, there is also that eerie feeling of a much bigger health catastrophe than the current pandemic. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has suggested a disruption like this could result in as many as 6,000 additional children dying every day.
According to WHO immunization and vaccines department head Kate O’Brien,
“what we fully expect in these diseases will come roaring back, and what that means… is that we’re going to see deaths of children in numbers that are unprecedented in recent times.
Suspension of mass immunization
WHO’s regional office for Africa have underscored the importance of maintaining essential health services such as immunizations, as an abrupt interruption of vaccine activities make outbreaks more likely to occur, putting children and vulnerable people at risk. It does corroborate their European Regional counterpart which compiled a report dated 20 March 2020, detailing measures it can implement to mitigate the transmission of the virus and also reduce the impact of the outbreak on healthcare to COVID-19 resources. It stated that, “in planning these measures, due considerations should be given to minimizing the excess risk of morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) that would result if services are disrupted.
“Any disruption of immunization service, even for short periods will result in the accumulation of susceptible individuals and a higher likelihood of VPD outbreaks. Such outbreaks may result in VPD-related deaths and an increased burden on health system already strained by the response to the COVID-19 outbreak”.
Currently, there have been a halt in vaccine programmes in at least 68 countries with some entirely stopping vaccination campaigns and this is currently having a staggering effect on the primary healthcare of women and children. Reasons for the halt in vaccine administrations are due to fear of contracting the virus harbored by the mothers, nurses being diverted to tackle the virus and getting vaccine supplies to clinics.
“In Ghana, immunization services have come to a halt in areas where movement restrictions are being enforced, while in other areas session sizes have been reduced, to limit overall group size and because some caregivers are hesitant to show up”, according to a report by the head of Vaccine Impact Research, Niranjan Bhat.
In spite of advocating for the suspension of vaccination programmes due to coronavirus, the WHO is among several entities expressing concern over its long term impact as pockets of cases rise. United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) executive director says,
“Measles is on the rise, diphtheria, cholera. So this is going to be a real problem. As a world, we had conquered many of these preventable diseases for children. Now there are grave concerns these gains could be wiped away”.
Over 21 million children stand the risk of getting sick from preventable diseases in countries such as Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan who have suspended their immunization campaigns and a threatening disaster is imminent as there’s a resurgence in measles outbreak in Africa according to a WHO finding.
Candidly, WHO envisages that 117 million children could stand the risk of missing out on measles vaccines because countries globally are suspending national immunization programs in order to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, and according to the Measles and Rubella initiatives, so far twenty-four low and middle-income countries including Mexico, Nigeria and Cambodia have paused or postposed such programs.
Experts have advised sustained efforts in routine immunizations, comprehensive data on registries of infants as most West African countries do not have data record of these children except parent-held record.
COVID-19 disrupts vaccine distribution
Now, we understand the gravitas attached to the helm of the pandemic’s garment as it offers no healing at a touch. By no small means, a new ‘pandemic’ hovers on the horizon and might color the clouds black soon if the proper channels for delivering vaccines especially to low and middle income countries are not being hastily attended to. Several reasons come to play to account for the disruption such as, reprioritization and channeling of health workers in dealing with the virus and also restriction impositions embroidered with social distancing.
The largest vaccine procurer, UNICEF, has admittedly come into agreement with the implication of an outbreak as disruption to vaccine distribution continues,
“obviously, when you have an outbreak like this and you have a large number of people seeking healthcare services, it does stretch existing capacity, and human and financial resources which are diverted to the response—and appropriately so”.
Granted, we have an almost insurmountable pandemic which might achieve a citizen status soon, or not, but the bigger picture of belling the vaccination problem is of an equal importance. Searching ways of seamlessly vaccinating children in every nook and cranny via a compilation of a cumulative data on outstanding population to be vaccinated should be of prime importance.