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Value of Vaccines Q4 2020

Immunisation programmes are vital during the pandemic

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sarah-Jean

Anuradha Gupta

Deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Encouraging news that COVID-19 vaccines in development may offer protection against the coronavirus brings fresh hope that the end of the crisis may be within reach. It couldn’t come sooner.

The virus has already infected 50 million people and claimed more than 1.2 million lives. However, the secondary effects of the pandemic are more debilitating, with one million more children now likely to die in the next six months because of the indirect impact of the pandemic.

Overall, the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives and livelihoods, and on the global economy, has been nothing short of devastating. While this global crisis has been a wake-up call to the critical role that vaccines play in protecting people’s health, it is also highlighting how fragile our global immunisation gains actually are.

The disruption of immunisation services

It took just six months for this pandemic to knock immunisation coverage in the world’s poorest countries down to levels not seen since the 1990s, unravelling a quarter of a century of progress.

Immunisation services were severely disrupted, putting tens of millions of children at risk from a whole range of infectious diseases such as polio and measles. Outreach services came to a halt, disproportionately impacting marginalised communities. This has exacerbated the risk of countries having to battle multiple disease outbreaks amid a raging COVID-19 and witnessing a spike in child deaths.

So, as we navigate this crisis, one of our top priorities must be to keep routine immunisation services going. The consequences of suspending vaccination sessions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are far too disastrous. For every COVID-19 death this might prevent, more than 84 children would be at risk of dying from a vaccine-preventable disease.

One million more children now likely to die in the next six months because of the indirect impact of the pandemic.

Helping to future-proof health systems 

Gavi is working closely with countries to prevent such a catastrophe, by providing vital funding and technical support to help bolster health systems weakened by the pandemic. We have an opportunity to build back better and create a new model of resilient, integrated and equitable primary health care delivery.

Health systems of the future must deliver vaccination, the backbone of primary health care, and a range of other vital services. Most importantly, no one should be left behind.

One thing that the pandemic has taught us is the importance of preparedness and prevention. Vaccines prevent diseases, protect people from medical impoverishment and stop outbreaks from escalating into pandemics. Immunisation programmes are themselves vulnerable. So, to protect people, we must also protect them. This would need enhanced political will, financing, human resources and community participation.

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