Countries working to sustain population immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases during COVID-19 pandemic

Countries working to sustain population immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases during COVID-19 pandemic

Agency News

Copenhagen, Apr 28: Countries across the WHO European Region have been utilizing guidance from WHO/Europe to include immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) as an essential health service during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO has called on countries to ensure that immunization is maintained wherever possible and surveillance for VPDs remains undisrupted during the ongoing pandemic. Immunization is a right and a responsibility. Ensuring that everyone is fully vaccinated not only saves lives but also prevents outbreaks of diseases, including measles, which could burden economies and health-care systems already strained by COVID-19.

“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,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The forthcoming 2030 European regional immunization agenda, which will embrace the principle of equitable access to immunization, is one of the flagship initiatives in the European Programme of Work (EPW),” he added.

Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 in the European Region, was forced to repurpose much of its health-care personnel as COVID-19 cases mounted starting in late February 2020, particularly those working in infectious diseases, including immunization. DrAntoniettaFilia, public health physician and researcher working at the Infectious Diseases Department of the Italian National Institute of Health and an expert member of the European Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation explained that the regions in Italy have tailored their immunisation services based on the local COVID-19 epidemiology and the mitigation measures in place. “In the Lombardy region, the country’s epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional authorities advised temporary suspension of routine vaccinations on 24 February.

However, the immunisation services were partially reopened on 11 March, and full services resumed from 14 April. The authorities also reiterated the importance of putting in place a mechanism to register the children who had missed their routine doses and to prioritize these children as soon as services were available again,” she explained. Wherever possible, regions and provinces have maintained childhood immunisation as part of the essential health services, prioritizing primary vaccine doses, while ensuring strict infection prevention and control measures, such as time slots and physical distancing in waiting rooms. The Ministry of Health and Italian National Institute of Health have reiterated that routine immunization services should remain a priority, as far as possible.(UNI)