The strategies adopted in 2020 to fight COVID-19 around the world have had an impact on routine vaccination against poliomyelitis and even measles.
In 2020, around 7.7 million children did not receive the first life-saving dose of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio vaccines as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an article published in 2021.
According to the WHO, missed vaccinations in Africa from the previous year have risen to around ten percent due to the disruption of health services due to the pandemic.
“In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared, all service delivery was suspended in countries, including polio campaigns and the fight against other vaccine-preventable diseases. [such as measles and yellow fever]“, Modjirom Ndoutabe, coordinator of the polio program at the WHO regional office for Africa, told SciDev.Net.
“Countries continued to isolate poliovirus, either from target children or from the environment. 2021, which allowed the virus to circulate intensely in the African region,” he added.
In Cameroon, for example, the pandemic period was marked by an upsurge in measles and poliomyelitis.
“Measles has spread from 44 health districts in 2019 to 80 districts in 2020,” said Shalom Tchokfe Ndoula, permanent secretary of the Expanded Program on Immunization in Cameroon.
“In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared, all service delivery was suspended in countries, including polio campaigns,” said Modjirom Ndoutabe of WHO Africa. “In 2021, the response measures put in place reduced this number to 31. In 2022, however, the number exploded and around 60 health districts were affected,” he added.
Ndoula said, “Cameroon went from four poliovirus cases in 2019 to 16 cases in 2020.” He said while the number of cases fell from 16 to six in 2021 and then to two in 2022, any case of derived polio is a “sign of insufficient immunity within communities”.
The situation was similar in Senegal where vaccination campaigns were halted due to public health measures, including school closures, put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. These measures, Ousseynou Badiane, the coordinator of the Extended Vaccination Program in Cameroon, have led to a drop in attendance at health facilities.
“The health staff was practically occupied with the fight against COVID-19 to the point that other programs were neglected,” Ousseynou said.
In Guinea, the period before the COVID-19 years had better vaccination coverage than the period of the virus.
“We analyzed the vaccination data from the COVID-19 period to those from the period of 2018 or 2019, we realized that there was a slight drop in vaccination coverage,” explains Mamadou Dian Bah, head of the planning and mobilization service for the Enlarged. Vaccination program in Guinea.
Rumors and fake news about COVID-19 vaccinations have also caused many families to refuse childhood vaccinations.
Ndoula told SciDev.Net that vaccination campaigns have also suffered a setback. “Due to misinformation, various vaccination campaigns have encountered unusual difficulties, including refusals to be vaccinated.
“The main hurdles being rumors that COVID-19 vaccines will be given under the guise of regular vaccination campaigns, children will be discreetly vaccinated against COVID-19, harmful substances will be infiltrated through vaccination campaigns and the children would be sterilized,” he said. said.
Ousseynou Badiane, the coordinator of Senegal’s Expanded Immunization Program, also agrees that immunization programs have suffered from fake news and that this has led to vaccine hesitancy.
“When we started vaccination against COVID-19, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to be vaccinated against other genes (viruses), especially those in infants,” Ousseynou told SciDev.Net.
He said people were starting to believe that other vaccines were a covert way to give the COVID-19 vaccine to children. They thought COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous.
Ousseynou added that vaccination campaigns against yellow fever, derived poliomyelitis and a selective campaign against measles organized during COVID-19 have been impacted and many refusals of vaccines have occurred.
“Fake news had an impact, even if it was not very big, on these campaigns because we had a lot of refusals during these campaigns,” he said.
Some mitigation measures
In the midst of a pandemic, the WHO wanted to strengthen “interpersonal communication to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated against poliomyelitis and measles”, explained Modjirom Ndoutabe.
It is this communication strategy that has enabled Guinea to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on routine vaccination and keep vaccination coverage “at an acceptable level”, Mamadou Dian Bah told SciDev.Net .
For Senegal, Ousseynou says the Expanded Vaccination Program has adopted some “corrective measures” to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the health system.
“We have increased the vaccination coverage a bit and brought it back to satisfactory levels,” he said.
In Cameroon, according to Ndoula, health authorities have developed guidelines that help health personnel know how to continue providing immunization services while protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.
Health staff also now know how to communicate effectively with parents, Ndoula said.
Other strategies such as mobile campaigns have been organized in urban areas “to raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination and the risks faced by unvaccinated children”, he said.
Ndoula added that advanced strategies have been put in place in under-vaccinated communities to bring the vaccination offer closer to the populations.
“These advanced strategies include door-to-door campaigns and intensified vaccination activities in selected regions and districts of the country to catch up with children who have missed their vaccine doses,” Ndoula explained.
In 2022, the WHO put in place response plans “which have enabled a dozen countries to stop the circulation of all types of poliovirus”, explains Modjirom Ndoutabe, coordinator of the poliomyelitis program at the Regional Office of the WHO for Africa, at SciDev.Net.
However, there is always a risk of spreading these infectious diseases, especially if the viruses circulate in areas where children are not vaccinated.
Modjirom said strengthening communication is key to enabling parents to buy into the various initiatives aimed at eradicating or controlling vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Routine vaccination must be reinforced by the implementation of integrated multi-antigen mini-campaigns”, he recommends.
Badiane says routine vaccinations should be a priority.
“We were almost at the final phase of polio eradication; we were moving towards the elimination of measles… It is thanks to vaccination that we have had these achievements. To prevent these diseases from coming back, emphasis should be placed on routine vaccination,” he added. said.
Ndoula added that providing people with information on vaccination and the vaccination schedule for children aged 0 to 23 months could contribute to the eradication of poliomyelitis and measles.
He recommends adapting health services to the lifestyle of community members.
“Health services will have to adapt to the habits of the community, even if it means offering vaccination services during office hours to give all children the chance to receive their doses of vaccines,” he added.
Provided by SciDev.Net
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