Immunization services begin slow recovery from COVID-19 disruptions, though millions of children remain at risk from deadly diseases – WHO, UNICEF, Gavi
--- While immunization services have started to recover from disruptions caused by COVID-19, millions of children remain vulnerable to deadly diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance warned today during World Immunization Week , highlighting the urgent need for a renewed global commitment to improve vaccination access and uptake. “Vaccines will help us end the COVID-19 pandemic but only if we ensure fair access for all countries, and build strong systems to deliver them,” said
What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines
Vaccines save millions of lives each year and a COVID-19 vaccine could save yours. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, providing strong protection against serious illness and death. WHO reports that unvaccinated people have at least 10 times higher risk of death from COVID-19 than someone who has been vaccinated. There is also evidence that being vaccinated can help prevent you from spreading the virus, so it protects people around you. It is important to be vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn, even if you already had COVID-19. Vaccines offer more reliable protection than natural immunity. Getting vaccinated is a safer way for you to develop immunity from COVID-19 than getting infected. The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but no vaccine provides 100 per cent protection. Some people will still get ill from COVID-19 after vaccination or pass the virus onto someone else. Therefore, it is important to continue practicing safety precautions to protect yourself and others, including avoiding crowded spaces, physical distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask.
Celebrating the past, present and future benefits of vaccines
- This past, difficult year of the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how vulnerable we all are to a deadly new disease, when we don’t have the right vaccines or medical technologies we normally use to fight back. Long before COVID-19, one crucial tool – simply called “routine immunization” – was already saving millions of lives and preventing debilitating sickness, particularly among children. Routine immunization protects not only the person vaccinated, but also others in their communities. It helps pave the way to universal health coverage and Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination at an ever-increasing speed across the WHO European Region, just a year after the start of the pandemic, is an impressive achievement. The European Union, WHO, UNICEF, all national governments and other partners have worked side by side in this response. Thanks to the global COVAX allocation mechanism and Team Europe’s effort some countries in the region that could not have competed on the global vaccine market on their own, are seeing vaccines being rolled-out. The European Union, WHO and UNICEF are now working with private and public sectors to overcome supply and capacity challenges and enable faster delivery. The uneven roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination to date highlights another truth: Inequitable access to health technologies between and within countries hurts us all. The virus and its impact on interlinked economies and societies know no borders. No country is safe until all countries are safe. While COVID-19 vaccination must continue at a faster and more equitable pace, it must not come at the cost of neglecting routine immunization. Any dip in routine coverage caused by the pandemic in 2020 or 2021 will pave the way for future outbreaks and jeopardize decades of progress. In 2019, the European Region continued its record-breaking trend in routine vaccination coverage rates against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases. While 2020 saw an exceptionally low rate of reported measles cases, the pandemic has challenged national immunization programmes to keep up and catch up on routine shots. We must keep measles and other preventable diseases at bay by maintaining high routine vaccination coverage rates in every community, even during the pandemic. This year, more than ever, we call on everyone to do their part by choosing health information sources carefully, getting all routine vaccinations in due time and accepting COVID-19 vaccination for yourself and your loved ones when your turn comes. Talk to your children and others about vaccination, so they also come to see that it is not just an injection, but an investment in a healthier future and a safer world. A girl is getting her routine vaccination in Armenia. UNICEF Armenia/2021/Margaryan
Ukraine to receive $2.8 million worth of cold chain equipment to support COVID vaccination
- The Ministry of Health of Ukraine in partnership with UNICEF, and with financial support from the US Government through USAID, starts an unprecedented upgrade to the cold chain for vaccines at the national level, in the context of COVID pandemic. To meet immediate needs, a total of $2.8 million provided by USAID will be used by UNICEF to procure WHO-prequalified passive cooling equipment to ensure safe and efficient transport and temporary storage of vaccines for primary health care facilities and mobile teams. The USAID donation will provide equipment to some 3,100 vaccination sites nationwide, including 1,034 sites based at primary healthcare facilities and nearly 800 mobile teams. The equipment will include: 5,643 cold boxes, 8,100 vaccine carriers, 197,730 ice-packs, 27,486 temperature monitoring devices The first batch of equipment arrived on September 30, and includes 2,700 vaccine carriers that can keep COVID-19 vaccines between +2 to +8°C. This equipment can also be used in the future for routine vaccines included in the national immunization schedule. “Every adult person in Ukraine has a chance to get a vaccination against COVID-19 today. We have enough vaccines to immunize 70 percent of the population by the end of the year. The Ministry is expecting to receive more COVID-19 vaccines in October-November. We are grateful to partners helping us ensure safe transport and temporary storage of the larger amount of vaccines we are receiving,” said Ihor Kuzin, Deputy Minister of Health, Chief State Sanitary Doctor of Ukraine. “The U.S. Government, as the largest donor to COVAX, is proud to partner with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and the international community in this historic effort to rapidly scale up COVID-19 vaccines. This investment in Ukraine's cold chain system will help ensure that vaccination sites across the country can transport and store vaccines at the proper temperature. This will increase Ukrainians' access to safe, high-quality COVID 19 vaccines - and will strengthen the national immunization system,"
Frontline social workers provide vital support to improve health
Yura has been a social worker for many years. “When I started working in social services, I was mainly interested in family therapy,” she says . “In time, I found out that supporting communities to become resilient and self-reliant is an extremely rewarding experience.” A year ago, she joined the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria (CRWB) – a civil society organization created in 2003 to support the integration of refugees and migrants. “Guiding through people from refugee and migrant backgrounds on health-related procedures in their host country is a way to empower them to find solutions to health issues,” explains Yura. And this is particularly vital for those fleeing from armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. As they search for safety and better life opportunities, both adults and children go through many traumatic experiences as a result of often prolonged stays in refugee camps, limited access to health care, and the dangers they face as they travel through volatile areas. By the time they finally reach a safe destination, they are often in very bad physical and psychological shape. “In Bulgaria, refugee children arrive with their parents or – in some cases – unaccompanied. Psychological problems, infectious diseases, medically unobserved pregnancies and, in particular, a lack of immunization, are common problems that have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.” Radostina Belcheva, Project Coordinator and Deputy-Chair of CRWB The CRWB partners with UNICEF Bulgaria to provide general health checks and referrals, as well as life-saving vaccines in line with children’s immunization schedules, and equips parents with information on health risks, entitlements and how to access medical services. “As part of the ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South-Eastern Europe’ (RM Child-Health) project co-funded by the European Union’s Health Programme, we work with our partners to ensure that children can follow immunization plans and that their vaccination status is updated in their immunization documents. These are crucial steps in ensuring good health . ” Diana Yovcheva, Programme Officer with UNICEF Bulgaria Working directly with refugees, Yura consults families that want to access health services. “Some cases are easier than others”, she says, recalling a consultation with Ahmed*, a 45-year-old father of six children, who fled Syria in 2020 and received humanitarian status in Bulgaria. A chef by profession, Ahmed settled quite well in the host country, found a job in a restaurant and, after some time, managed to reunite with his wife, his four sons and two daughters. “Ahmed was referred to the CRWB by friends and he came in for a consultation on the immunization process with his youngest baby girl, Yasmina, only one year old” explains Yura. During their meeting, the social worker provided information about the health system in Bulgaria, the role of a general practitioner, and how people with refugee status can access medical services including vaccinations for their children. Although Ahmed’s baby girl had been vaccinated before her arrival in Bulgaria and had an immunization passport, the father urgently needed to update her vaccination status to synchronize her vaccinations with the recommendations of the national immunization calendar. “I contacted the Regional Health Inspectorate and helped Ahmed to provide the necessary documents and find a translator, as the documents were in Turkish”, says Yura. Subsequently, she helped Ahmed schedule an appointment with a medical doctor and Yasmina received her next vaccine. Parents often lack the necessary vaccination documents. According to Yura, “Sometimes children have not had any vaccinations, or they have been vaccinated in their country of origin, but their immunization cards have been lost or destroyed.” Such cases require additional consultations, research and coordination, as well as testing for antibodies and immune responses when it is not clear whether the child has been vaccinated. “By empowering parents to familiarize themselves with the immunization plans and procedures we help them become proactive in following up on their children’s health." Yura, Social worker To address the COVID-19 restrictions and keep active communication with refugees and migrants, the CRWB and UNICEF developed leaflets in Bulgarian, Arabic and Farsi with details about the health system in Bulgaria and the importance of vaccinations, and regularly provide health-related information via social media. “The role of communication in immunization is essential. Our frontline staff interact on a daily basis with beneficiaries, but we have also used other means [such as a Facebook group dedicated to health-related topics] to keep the information flow going, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic . ” Radostina Belcheva, Project Coordinator and Deputy-Chair of CRWB Logo - Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe This story is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative). The content of this story represents the views of the author only and is her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the European Health and Digital Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains .
Empowering refugee and migrant children to claim their right to health: Improving health literacy
“I have always had to behave ‘like a girl’ and I am not used to being asked for my opinion, but you ask me to say what I think during these workshops.” A 13-year-old girl from Syria describes the impact of empowerment workshops in Serbia Boy is drawing a picture. UNICEF-supported activities for children on the island of Lesvos, Greece The ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative has supported work across five European countries to improve health literacy among refugee and migrant children over the past year. As a result, they and their families have learned about key health issues, about the health services available to them, and how to demand health services as their right. Through its support for health literacy – the ability to find, understand and use information to take care of your own health – the initiative has helped to dismantle some key barriers to health services for refugee and migrant children and their families in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia. This 27-month, €4.3 million co-funded initiative, which was launched in January 2020 by the European Union Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, works alongside young refugees and migrants to ensure that they have accurate health information in their own languages – information that reaches them via the channels they use and the people they trust. Importantly, the initiative makes them more aware of their right to health care in these European countries – welcome news for those who have fled from countries where good quality health care is either unaffordable or unavailable. With support from the initiative, UNICEF and its partners first worked with young refugees and migrants to identify gaps in the information available to them and in their own knowledge. This informed the health literacy packages that have been rolled out in all five countries over the past year, spanning a wide range of topics from immunization and nutrition to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV). The packages themselves have been backed by detailed plans to ensure that their messages reach their audiences and gain real traction. Great care has been taken to ensure that information materials are culturally appropriate, gender sensitive and child-friendly, and that they are suitable for the ages and backgrounds of their audiences. Cultural mediators and interpreters have helped to overcome language and cultural barriers, while materials have been made available in, for example, Arabic, Farsi and Pashto. Activities have often been led by trusted professionals, such as nurses, physicians and psychologists who are already familiar with the needs of refugee and migrant children and their families. Materials have been shared through channels and locations that are well-used by refugees and migrants, including asylum offices, temporary reception centres, health centres, Mother and Baby Corners (MBCs), workshops and discussion sessions, during outreach activities and via social media. As a result, health literacy is now embedded into existing activities with refugee and migrant children and parents across all five countries, and is based firmly on their views and needs.
A child’s guide to COVID-19
When our body is attacked by a virus or bacteria that causes a disease, our immune system (the body’s natural defense) produces an army of soldiers, called ‘antibodies’. These antibodies fight off infection from the invading disease. When the body is attacked for the first time by this particular invader, the immune system has to build this new army and this can take time – during this time the person can get very sick and maybe even die. The COVID-19 vaccine works to train the immune system so it will be prepared for the virus or bacteria. It tells our immune system to build antibodies in advance, so they are ready to attack and can defeat the invading virus or bacteria before it has the chance to make the body very sick.
Mainstreaming what works: EU and UNICEF strengthen health capacity for refugee and migrant children
“Very often we have the feeling that this space functions as a container for the absorption of negative emotions of the people who visit us. People who come here often feel safe enough to share their fears, their frustrations and even their darker thoughts. We try to give them space to express their feelings and we always find ways to boost their morale.” A Coordinator from METAdrasi on the importance of the Mother and Child Space for refugee and migrant At the ADRA community centre for migrant mothers and babies, Belgrade, Serbia At the ADRA community centre for migrant mothers and babies, Belgrade, Serbia The ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative has worked with UNICEF and its partners over the past year to strengthen national health systems in five European countries so they can meet the needs of refugee and migrant children. The initiative recognizes that a strong health system delivers for every vulnerable child. It is also a system that looks beyond physical health care to address mental and emotional wellbeing and wider issues, such as gender-based violence. Strong health systems are vital to ease the bottlenecks that confront refugee and migrant families when they try to access health care. All too often, their attempts to claim their right to health services are hampered by language barriers, bureaucracy and discrimination. In Bulgaria, for example, where national immunization rates are already below the European average, refugee and migrant children are three times less likely to be vaccinated than other children. The challenges Refugee and migrant children often have complex health needs, which may go far beyond poor physical health. Migration has a negative impact, for example, on their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. And that impact is intensified by poor living conditions, a lack of supportive social networks and social integration and, all too often, hostility from host communities. Many parents and caregivers, faced with barriers to health care and other basic services, as well as a lack of control over their own destiny, face real distress, and this can undermine their ability to meet the physical and emotional needs of their children at a critical point in their development. Gender-based violence (GBV) is another – and particularly harsh – challenge that affects many refugee and migrant children and young people. A chronic lack of child-friendly health information and durable solutions has heightened the risks of GBV, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancies, and the devastating consequences of all three for mental health. The response
Teachers from the Guria region are getting COVID-19 vaccination as part of a joint campaign by UNICEF and the Government
UNICEF continues to engage educators and school administrators in the COVID-19 vaccination programme. More than 200 teachers from Guria region learned about the benefits and the importance of COVID-19 vaccination through information sessions organized by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science and the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health. The sessions were led by prominent doctors and public health experts and were attended by the educators from Ozurgeti, Lanchkhuti and Chokhatauri municipalities. As frontline workers, it is important that teachers have access to vaccinations for safe school reopening. The sessions were led by a new group of prominent medical experts, including: Maia Gotua Prof. MD. Ph.D. General Director of the Center of Allergy and Immunology, Vice President of Georgian Association of Allergology and Clinical Immunology; Mamuka Bokuchava Prof. MD. Ph.D. Vascular Surgeon, Deputy Director Of Bokhua Memorial Cardiovascular Center; Nino Kiknadze Associate Prof. MD. Ph.D. Director Of Clinical Services at Raymann Clinic; Levan Vashakidze MD. Anesthesiologist, Head of Anesthesia departments of Bokhua Memorial Cardiovascular Center and the New Hospital. UNICEF Deputy Representative Amy Clancy addressed the teachers focusing on the importance of safe reopening of schools. During the sessions the doctors and healthcare professionals covered a variety of topics including: COVID-19 immunization trends in Georgia and current situation regarding the virus; the importance of immunization and COVID-19 complications, including among children; vaccination of people with chronic diseases and allergy conditions. The teachers were invited to get vaccinated on the spot, following the informational sessions. Most teachers participating in the event got their vaccines. Since May 2021, UNICEF has organized 19 similar meetings in different regions of Georgia for local community leaders, including teachers, doctors, religious leaders and tourism sector representatives, to engage them in the national vaccination programme. More than 1000 teachers got vaccinated following the sessions, on the same day. The teachers have since spread information about the benefits of vaccination in their communities, resulting in higher rates of vaccination. As a result of joint interventions, as of 31 August 2021, the number of teachers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 increased from 9% to 46%. UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science and with support from NCDC, plans to organize 42 meetings for more than 3000 teachers to be vaccinated by the end of the year. Schools are central to children’s development, safety, and well-being. The risks to children, while they are out of school, are greater than the risks to them while in school, for three key reasons: The impact of school closures on students’ learning, health, and well-being at critical developmental stages have profound repercussions on children, their families, and their economy. Many of these children will never catch up. With risk mitigation measures in place, schools are safe environments for children. The latest evidence shows that schools do not drive the spread of COVID-19 in the community and that COVID-19 does not pose a high risk to children. School closures have the greatest negative impact on the most vulnerable children, those who are far less likely to have access to remote learning and more likely to be exposed to violence, abuse, neglect, child labor, and other risks. Closing schools must be a temporary measure of last resort in pandemic response; and schools must be the first to open and the last to close. Assessing the risk of transmission at the local level should be a key determinant in decisions on school operations. Teacher is getting her COVID-19 vaccination after the session held by UNICEF and the Government. UNICEF/GEO-2021/Kvachadze
What we know about the Omicron variant
WHO reports that early evidence suggests that previous infection could offer less protection against Omicron in comparison to other variants of concern, such as Delta. Information is still limited though and we will share updates as it becomes available. You should get vaccinated even if you’ve previously had COVID-19. While people who recover from COVID-19 may develop some natural immunity to the virus, we do not yet know how long it lasts or how well you are protected. Vaccines offer more reliable protection.
UNICEF procures healthcare supplies worth over KGS 12 million to help the Kyrgyz Republic respond to COVID-19
delivered personal protective equipment worth over KGS 12,000,000 to the Ministry of Health and Social Development. UNICEF provided 8,000 medical masks, 12,500 pairs of nitrile gloves for vaccinators, 20,000 pairs of gynaecological gloves, and 11,350 units of antiseptics for healthcare institutions and medical workers. UNICEF procured Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on behalf of the Ministry through its Supply Division based in Copenhagen, hosting the world's largest humanitarian warehouse. The Ministry of Health and Social Development will use these essential supplies to support its ongoing vaccination efforts to respond to the pandemic and protect frontline healthcare workers. Gynaecological gloves are also being delivered to maternity facilities in Bishkek, Osh and Batken to improve the safety of mothers, newborns and medical staff. In addition, UNICEF procured 890,000 medical masks to ensure safe vaccination against COVID-19. " UNICEF is working around the clock to deliver essential supplies globally to respond to COVID-19. It includes the provision of vaccines, syringes, immunization equipment, medicines and personal protective equipment. In close collaboration with the Government of Kyrgyzstan, we are providing these protective supplies to maternities and hospitals so that everyone can be protected ", said Yulia Oleinik, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Kyrgyzstan. UNICEF will continue to support the Government in the COVID-19 response by delivering COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, procuring cold chain equipment for vaccine storage, providing essential supplies for frontline workers and supporting the socioeconomic measures to ensure that every child can survive and thrive. The handover of the supplies to the maternity house in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
UNICEF engages medical students in a country-wide campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccination
Students specializing in the field of medicine from three different universities in Georgia will engage in a 6-month campaign, organized by UNICEF and the Association of Immunization and Vaccinology (AIVA) with support from USAID, to share information on and to promote the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Memorandums will be signed with the Tbilisi State University, the Tbilisi State Medical University, the Batumi State University and the International University Batumi to engage students in disseminating information about COVID-19 vaccines. The campaign, with the slogan “ You can end this pandemic!”, will target young people in selected regions and share evidence-based information on COVID-19, its possible complications and prevention measures, and will focus on why vaccination against COVID-19 is important. With a network of medical students, a medical students league will be established. The league members or “med-iators” will first undergo a full day training to improve their understanding about the existing vaccination process and the available vaccines. Among the trainers are: Maia Gotua, Prof. M.D. Ph.D. General Director of the Center of Allergy and Immunology, Vice President of Georgian Association of Allergology and Clinical Immunology; Archil Marshania M.D. Anesthesiologist and Tamar Ratishvili M.D. member of the vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic. After the initial training, the student league will be regularly updated on the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines and statistics, which the league will use for further communication with the communities. The students will go on field trips to hard-to-reach villages of mountainous Adjara, as well as ethnic minority communities in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli regions. During the visits, the students will set up a visually prominent stand in the center of the village, where local population, especially young people, will receive latest and reliable information about COVID-19 vaccination. The students will also assist the local population in registering for vaccination and will distribute additional information, such as brochures and fliers in Armenian and Azerbaijani languages, targeting ethnic minorities. UNICEF has been actively supporting the Government in raising awareness about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination in Georgia. Since May 2021, UNICEF has organized more than 50 informational meetings on COVID-19 vaccination across Georgia with local community leaders, teachers, nurses, doctors, religious leaders and tourism sector representatives to engage them in the national vaccination programme. UNICEF engages medical students in a country-wide campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccination UNICEF/GEO-2021/Valishvili