Africa Vaccination Week 2020 kicks off as COVID-19 threatens immunization gains

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Updated: March 7, 2021

Africa Vaccination Week started on Friday, even as the COVID-19 pandemic was causing significant disruption to vaccination efforts and to the surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases on the continent. 

The 2020 Africa Vaccination Week theme is #Vaccines Work for All.  The campaign will focus on how vaccines – and the people who develop, deliver and receive them – are heroes by working to protect the health of everyone, everywhere.  The initiative – aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases.  

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Prior disease outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies have underscored the importance of maintaining essential health services such as immunization. Even brief interruptions of vaccination activities make outbreaks more likely to occur, putting children and other vulnerable groups more at risk of life-threatening diseases. 

Africa has been experiencing a resurgence of measles. Measles preventive mass vaccination campaigns in Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan have been suspended because of COVID-19, leaving around 21 million children who would have been vaccinated, unprotected.

‘While the complexity and breadth of the Covid-19 response is unprecedented, we must continue to protect African children against vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “Let us not be blind-sided by COVID-19 and let down our guard against measles and other childhood threats.“

WHO has developed new guidelines on immunization in the context of COVID-19 that stress the need for a dynamic, approach. They recommend that countries temporarily pause preventive mass vaccination campaigns but they urge countries to prioritize the continuation of routine immunization of children as an essential service delivery, as well as adult vaccinations such as influenza for groups most at risk.

The conduct of outbreak response mass vaccination campaigns will require a careful risk-benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis. For example, countries under total lockdown may not be able to fully implement routine health services at all sites, so they may opt to preemptively scale up routine services before the announcement of total lockdown, or to ramp up once the lockdown ends.  If immunization services must be suspended, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be rescheduled as soon as possible, prioritizing those most at risk.

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