Pacific children at risk during pandemic panic

Thousands of children are in danger of missing out on life-saving vaccines against measles and other diseases while Pacific Islands focus its attention on COVID-19 pandemic.

The point was highlighted in a joint statement issued by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and United Nations Children's Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.).

Measles claimed the lives of 83 people in Samoa last year.

“American Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga also declared measles outbreaks,” reads the statement.

It added that Pacific Island countries and areas responded with supplemental immunization activities to protect children, close existing immunity gaps in the childhood immunization programmes and vaccinate adults at risk of infection.

With the current threat of COVID-19 putting gains achieved through immunization at risk.

The W.H.O. and U.N.I.C.E.F. are calling on and supporting Pacific Island countries and areas to continue routine immunization services where possible while ensuring the safety of parents and health workers during this World Immunization Week.

The W.H.O. Director of Pacific Technical Support, Dr. Corinne Capuano said that they are working with Pacific countries and partners to expedite catch up programmes in places where immunization services have been disrupted due to COVID-19.

“In 2019, very high coverage of measles vaccination was achieved across the Pacific in response to the re-emergence of measles,” he said.

However, he added that, “we cannot afford to fall behind in immunization, which remains one of the most effective public health programmes in reducing childhood illness and deaths.” 

Facing the acute threat of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have temporarily postponed planned mass vaccination campaigns.

However, there is a need for countries to start rigorous planning now to strengthen immunization programmes to close immunity gaps and avoid outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

“Immunization is an essential health service, and just as vital now as ever,” said U.N.I.C.E.F. Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett.

He added that while we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of COVID-19, delivering the immunizations that keep children safe is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Mr. Yett stated that parents should follow the guidance set by national governments in the countries they live.

“Parents should continue to protect their children through routine vaccination, while following guidance on preventive measures including physical distancing. Pacific health authorities are working to ensure that immunization clinics continue to deliver routine immunizations while ensuring that children, their carers and health care workers are protected from COVID-19.”

Amidst COVID-19 challenges across the Pacific, including border closures, W.H.O. and U.N.I.C.E.F. are working closely in partnership with Pacific governments and other partners to ensure there are adequate vaccine supplies available in countries that need them.

Providing immunization services is one of the safest and most cost-effective tools to end vaccine-preventable child deaths. 

W.H.O. and U.N.I.C.E.F. are working closely together to ensure that commitment to child rights is matched with action for every child in the Pacific by improving routine immunization coverage, which saves children’s lives.

Samoa’s Ministry of Health is continuing its vaccination programmes while the country does not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus.

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