Lifesaving immunization services continue for children in Democratic Republic of Korea (DPR Korea)

Protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases

Ridwan Gustiana, Health Specialist, UNICEF DPR Korea
truck loading vaccine
UNICEF/Ridwan Gustiana
10 June 2020

While the world grapples with COVID-19, a shipment of BCG and Pentavalent vaccines have reached DPR Korea via land route from Dandong, China to Sinuiju. This vital delivery will prevent disruption of immunization services for children in DPR Korea.

Globally, immunization services and supply chains have been disrupted due to COVID-19, and approximately 13 million children are not receiving any vaccines putting them and their communities at risk of diseases and death. DPR Korea is one of the few countries where services have remained uninterrupted, and now, there will be no shortage of vaccines despite disruptions of flights to and from the country.  

vaccine bottle
UNICEF/Ridwan Gustiana

Strong cold chain management

But transportation of vaccines by road from one country to another wasn’t easy. The vaccines had to remain at a specific temperature between 2 to 8 Celsius throughout its journey to DPR Korea. This was supported by strong cold chain management using refrigerated trucks with continuous electronic temperature monitoring devices throughout the land route from Beijing to Pyongyang.

The transportation of the vaccines would not have been possible without the full commitment of the Government of DPR Korea and the close collaboration between UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health.

“I am delighted that we are able to continue vaccination services for children in DPR Korea. We have overcome challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirmed our commitment to children by making sure that children are free from vaccine-preventable diseases, giving them a chance to grow up healthy and reach their full potential.,” said Myo-Zin Nyunt, Representative, UNICEF DPR Korea.

Protection against childhood diseases

The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis, also known as TB, which is a serious infection that affects the lungs and sometimes other parts of the body, such as the bones, joints and kidneys. BCG is recommended for newborns, in DPR Korea 325,605 newborns are vaccinated annually to protect them from TB.

Pentavalent vaccines are the 5 in-1 vaccine and is one of the most critical vaccines that a child will have. It is given as a single injection to babies against five serious childhood diseases: diphtheria, hepatitis B, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b), tetanus and whooping cough. The vaccine in DPR Korea is given at six, 10 and 14 weeks old in three doses. Each dose ensures that a baby’s immune system gets stronger.

vaccine arrival
UNICEF/Ridwan Gustiana

COVID-19 and vaccinations

The global COVID-19 pandemic has overstretched health systems. Health workers have been working round-the-clock to respond to the outbreak. Essential health and vaccination services have been disrupted.

Children are missing out on critical vaccines. Reduction in routine immunization coverage means that many children will be unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, putting their lives at risk of vaccine preventable diseases. 

UNICEF recommends that children receive their routine immunizations while following national and local preventive measures including physical distancing, handwashing, and proper coughing/sneezing hygiene.

Vaccines have meant that many of us have been fortunate to grow up without seeing family or friends die or suffer life-long disability from diseases like measles or polio.

Protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is a child’s basic right.

UNICEF is working non-stop to ship vaccines #ForEveryChild

inspecting vaccine
UNICEF/Ridwan Gustiana