Maintaining vaccination services amid COVID-19
As the world works to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, health-care capacities are stretched in response to COVID-19 pandemic, and in some cases, vaccination services may have been disrupted.1,2 The coronavirus outbreak serves as a valuable reminder of the important role vaccination plays in protection from infectious disease.2 During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents should be made aware that it is vital that routine vaccination of children is maintained.1 Vaccine-preventable diseases are severe and can be life-threatening3 and vulnerable children who have missed vaccinations during the restrictions of lockdown should be prioritised.1
“One can only imagine the devastation of an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease (VPD) such as whooping cough or polio superimposed on a pandemic where healthcare resources and facilities are already under strain due to COVID-19,” says Dr Nasiha Soofie, Country Medical Head for the Vaccines Unit and Exports Market at Sanofi Pasteur.
Preventing life-threatening disease through vaccination
Vaccination protects children and adults from serious but preventable diseases.4 Decisions to delay or not to give a child their vaccinations can result in outbreaks of diseases such as measles, polio, hepatitis and more!4,5 As the response to COVID-19 continues, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that, in order to minimise other infectious disease outbreaks and loss of life, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be allowed in places where services have been disrupted.1 The prevailing recommendation is that parents and caregivers should continue to vaccinate their children in line with national policies.1
No child should be denied vaccination without serious thought as to the consequences, both for the child and the community.3,6 Vaccination is a right for all South Africans, regardless of age or economic status.3,6,7
Despite profound improvements in the South African vaccination programme over the years, vaccination coverage for preventable diseases remains sub-optimal at 74 %.8 Vaccine preventable diseases still kill more than half a million children under 5 years of age in Africa every year.8
In practice it means children are missing out on life-saving vaccinations and families still have loved ones that suffer illness, disability and even death from diseases that we have the knowledge and the tools to prevent.9
Diseases such diphtheria, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, tetanus and tuberculosis (TB) can be prevented!9
Parents and caregivers need to understand the importance of vaccination and the role they play in the vaccination of their children.9
No child, regardless of where they live or their economic status, should be left vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.9
Current advice: During April 2020, the World Health Organisation issued a warning that shutting down vaccination services during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in increased numbers of susceptible individuals and raise the likelihood of outbreak-prone vaccine preventable diseases.1
The true value of vaccines
Vaccination is a simple and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them.10
Although some diseases may have become uncommon, the viruses or bacteria that cause them, continue to circulate in some or all parts of the world. This has never been more relevant than now, with COVID-19 illustrating just how easily infectious diseases cross borders and infect anyone.10,11
- Measles can cause deafness and death.4
- Polio can cause permanent disability.4
- Hepatitis B can cause liver damage and cancer.4
These diseases are preventable!4
Globally, the vaccination motto is to leave no-one behind. “A world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being.”7 [World Health Organisation]
Don’t let your child suffer the consequences of a preventable disease.6 Contact your local clinic or ask your doctor for advice.
Vaccination is an investment in tomorrow’s society.12
Vaccine-preventable diseases are often disabling, impair child growth and development, and prevent children from achieving their full potential.12
A child who is not vaccinated is very likely to get measles, whooping cough and many other diseases. Children who survive these diseases are weakened and may not grow well. They may even be permanently disabled. By choosing not to vaccinate your child, their physical and cognitive development is at risk.12
Vaccination programmes that prevent infectious diseases in childhood allow children to participate fully in their education, preparing them to become healthy adults.12 Healthy children tend to achieve better educationally and to have better cognitive function.7,12
Community health: why prevention is better than cure.3
The burden of ill health and impaired development in children can have a knock-on effect in the community.12 Childhood diseases, such as mumps and chickenpox, can lead to serious complications in adulthood.12
Childhood vaccination therefore is not only necessary to protect our young children but also can provide protection to adults and the elderly (including pregnant women and unborn babies) through prevention of transmission from the younger individuals.12
By ensuring your child is vaccinated, you will contribute to your community’s universal health.7
Do not delay vaccines.
There is no benefit to delaying vaccinations.3
Parents who refuse or delay vaccines not only leave their children susceptible to preventable infections, but also make their communities vulnerable to outbreaks of these diseases.3
The World Health Organisation lists “Vaccine hesitancy” – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019!13
Measles, for example, has seen a 30 % increase in cases globally.13 Some countries that were close to eliminating this disease have seen a resurgence, with vaccine hesitancy listed as one of the causes.13
On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.3
Vaccines are tested to ensure that they are well tolerated and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages, with no known benefit or spreading out or delaying vaccinations at any timepoint.3
By choosing not to vaccinate your child, their physical and cognitive development could be at risk.12 Vaccination programmes that prevent infectious diseases in childhood allow children to participate fully in their education, preparing them to become healthy adults. Healthy children tend to achieve better educationally and to have better cognitive function.12
Don’t delay, vaccinate today!
Questions and Answers
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against infection or disease.14 Vaccines are proven in controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and saves lives.14
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines are manufactured according to strict safety guidelines that meet world standards of quality, tolerability and efficacy. Vaccines have robust development programmes prior to be available for general use in the public, and thereafter are subject to strict surveillance and batch testing.6 As with all medicines, side effects may occur, however the benefits of having the vaccine far outweigh the risks.6
Who should be vaccinated?
All people need to be aware of their right to vaccination and their responsibility to protect the health of others.7
People at all ages can be vaccinated, with a focus on new-borns, during the 2nd year of life and adolescence as well as pregnant women, health workers and the elderly.7 If a person has missed a vaccination, ‘catch-up’ vaccinations can be administered.7
The aim of vaccination is to ensure that entire communities are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases over their life-course.7,12
Why should I vaccinate against mild diseases like chickenpox?
Mild diseases such as varicella (chickenpox) may not be life threatening for a child, but it can have serious consequences in unvaccinated newborn babies or the elderly.12
Importantly, by getting your child vaccinated, you are protecting your child as well as others in your community from getting chickenpox.12
- South African Government News Agency. WHO: Maintain immunisation services during COVID-19. [Friday, April 24, 2020]; Available at https://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/who-maintain-immunisation-services-during-covid-19 Last accessed May 2020.
- UNICEF. Vaccinations and COVID-19: What parents need to know. [23 April 2020]; Available at http://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/vaccinations-and-covid-19-what-parents-need-know Last accessed May 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccines for Your Children. [Online; reviewed August 5, 2019]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/why-vaccinate/vaccine-decision.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fvaccines%2Fparents%2Fvaccine-decision%2Findex.html Last accessed May 2020.
- Department of Health Western Cape Government. Immunisation [Online, updated 10 July 2019]. Available from https://www.westerncape.gov.za/service/immunisation Last accessed May 2020.
- Williams SE. What are the factors that contribute to parental vaccine-hesitancy and what can we do about it? Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics 2014;10(9):2584-2596.
- Department of Health Western Cape Government. Immunisation is safe [Online; last updated March 2014]. Available from https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/immunisation-safe Last accessed May 2020.
- World Health Organisation. Developing together the vision and strategy for immunization – 2021-2030 Immunization Agenda 2030 A Global Strategy To Leave No One Behind [Online]. Available from https://www.who.int/immunization/ia2030_Draft_One_English.pdf?ua=1 Last accessed May 2020.
- WHO Africa. Experts Call for Increased Investments to Drive Immunization Progress in Africa [08 December 2017]; Available at https://www.afro.who.int/news/experts-call-increased-investments-drive-immunization-progress-africa Last accessed May 2020.
- Okwo-Bele JM. Together we can close the immunization gap. Commentary; 22 April 2015. Available from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/commentaries/vaccine-preventable-diseases/en/ Last accessed December 2019.
- World Immunization Week 2020 [April 28, 2020]; Available at: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/2020/04/28/world-immunization-week-2020/ Last accessed May 2020.
- WHO/UNICEF joint statement – Maintaining routine immunization services vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joint WHO and UNICEF statement to mark European Immunization Week 2020 [20 April 2020]; Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/events/events/2020/04/european-immunization-week-2020/statements/whounicef-joint-statement-maintaining-routine-immunization-services-vital-during-the-covid-19-pandemic Last accessed May 2020.
- Quilici S, Smith R, Signorelli C. Role of vaccination in economic growth. Journal of Market Access & Health Policy 2015;3. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/jmahp.v3.27044.
- World Health Organisation. Ten threats to global health in 2019 [Online]. Available from https://www.who.int/emergencies/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019 Last accessed May 2020.
- World Health Organisation. Health topics, Immunization [Online]. Available from https://www.who.int/topics/immunization/en/ Last accessed May 2020.