Child Vaccination – Necessary Even During the Pandemic
Vaccination of children is a routine, especially needed during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended mandatory child vaccination for two months, the Republic of Moldova being the only country in the region that put immunisation on hold. Although vaccination was resumed mid-May, some parents are reluctant to take their child to the doctor. The reason – fear of the novel coronavirus. Consequently, vaccination rates dropped in the first half of this year, compared with the similar period of the past year. Doctors are sounding the alarm, claiming that the refusal of vaccination may lead to other pandemics in the future. On the other hand, they are reassuring the population that all COVID-19 infection prevention measures are being taken in health facilities and that the immunisation procedure is set up in such a way as to guarantee maximum security.
Supporting Vaccination Even During the Pandemic
Veronica Cristea, a young woman from Chisinau, took her daughter for vaccination two months and a half after birth. She was given the immunisation schedule at the maternity hospital where she delivered the baby.
‘The doctor checked the baby and having seen that she was fine, she was vaccinated. A few hours later I was called by a health worker who inquired about how the baby was feeling’ said Veronica Cristea.
Veronica said that she vaccinated her daughter to ensure her immunity and that she grows up healthy. She admitted, though, that she had worried about having to go to the doctor. Her greatest fear was that either she or her baby could possible contract the virus because the same family doctor consults both children and adults.
Her fears went away as soon as she entered the health facility. People were not allowed to enter the clinic without a mask and without proving their good health conditions by measuring body temperature at the entrance and sanitizing their hands. Staff of the clinic was coordinating people entering the building, as well as ensuring social distancing maintenance, including through number of people allowed in the building
Information Note: During the emergency state– from 15 March to 15 May 2020 - vaccination in public primary health care facilities was suspended, however new-borns continued to be immunised against tuberculosis and viral hepatitis B in maternity hospitals.
Vaccination Protects Children Against Other Infections
Another young woman from Moldova, Mariana, who went to the local health clinic to vaccinate her 7-year-old child before the school starts. She said that her daughter received all the vaccines on time and that she didn’t see the pandemic as an obstacle to immunisation.
‘Why treat a disease when we can prevent severe diseases by vaccinating our children? Vaccination must follow the schedule and children must be immunised on time. I see no obstacle to vaccinating children now’, Mariana shared with us.
Information Note: The National Immunisation Program guarantees free vaccination to all citizens. In the Republic of Moldova, people are vaccinated against infections such as poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, rubella and congenital rubella, viral hepatitis B in children, mumps and measles.
According to the data of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, 4,665,190 vaccine doses were given under the National Immunisation Program of the Republic of Moldova during last 4 years with 454 moderate and severe adverse events having been registered and successfully treated in a short time, without consequences or further health issues. Over the last years, there was no case of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) or death associated with vaccination.
Vaccines Prevent Several Dangerous Diseases
Local Health Centre No 5 in Chisinau, where currently working 40 employees, family doctors and nurses, do vaccinations of children on a regular basis. They report, that the number of children showing up for immunisation was much higher in May, and now it seems that most of the children were up to date with vaccination schedule and less people come to the clinic for this matter, claimed the doctors.
Information Note: According to UNICEF Moldova, suspending vaccination for a period leads to a greater risk of infectious diseases breaking out. This is due to the loss of collective immunity that is essential in ensuring that the spreading of vaccine preventable diseases is halted. One example in this regard is the 2018 measles outbreak, which resulted from parents’/caregivers’ refusal to vaccinate, that lead to measles outbreak.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, the 2018 measles epidemic caused 140,000 deaths worldwide, most of them among children under the age of 5.
Once the vaccination was resumed, priority was given for children who needed immunisation against the rotavirus vaccine. About 30 children are vaccinated weekly each Tuesday and Thursday, with a 30-minute spacing between visitors to respect the safety measures.
‘Even if we are in the middle of a pandemic, we urge parents to vaccinate their children. The risk of them becoming infected with coronavirus is very small thanks to the protective measures taken to ensure safe vaccination. Parents and children above the age of 6 must wear face masks and gloves inside the health facility. Their temperature is taken at the entrance, where they must also sanitise their hands’, said Marina Mocreac, manager of the Buiucani Health Centre No 5.
The Pandemic Is Not an Obstacle to Vaccination
At the Medical Diagnostic Center in Chisinau, vaccination was resumed on 17 May 2020, a day after a Government Decision in this regard was approved. About 66 family doctors and nurses work in this facility. The patients get appointments in a way that each of them do not spend more than half an hour within the health facility.
‘The pandemic is not an obstacle to vaccination. Unfortunately, without immunisation, other pandemics may break out. I urge everyone to get their vaccines because the post-vaccination effects are the same as they were before the pandemic’, clarified Andrian Samboteanu, paediatrician in charge of immunoprophylaxis in one of the sectors in Chisinau.
At the current moment, children who do not have any contradictions to vaccination are given all the types of vaccines covered by the National Immunisation Program. Although parents are rather reluctant to vaccinate their children amidst the pandemic, the number of children getting their vaccine shots at the Centre did not change dramatically during this period. On average, 40 to 60 children are vaccinated every month, which is the same number as before the pandemic. There were infants who were under 6 months of age and were not vaccinated yet against rotavirus, unfortunately, because of the pandemic” added Samboteanu. Rotavirus vaccines are given to infants of age of 2 and 4 months and it cannot be postponed, like other vaccinations.
We Must be Informed and Not Scared
Ana Ploteanu, family doctor at the Medical Diagnostic Center, doesn’t have a nurse to help her out. That’s why she makes the appointments herself, including for vaccination, ensuring a certain time span between the visits. Young children are vaccinated on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the older ones – on Wednesdays. The appointments are made in such a way that the child visit all necessary specialists in one day to get the vaccination done.
‘We must be informed and not scared. We must take care about not getting sick, and make sure that the mandatory vaccines are given according to schedule. All the vaccines given now to children are the result of hundreds of years of efforts made by doctors, health systems and the countries that eradicated diseases. Now we must prevent the return of these diseases that we are being vaccinated against for many years. Therefore, the population must be immunised despite COVID’, said Ana Ploteanu.
Ministry of Health: ‘The Pandemic Had a Negative Impact on Immunisation’
Authorities reiterate that vaccination of children should be done in the first part of the day, with required conditions ensured: i.e. cleaning surfaces with biocidal agents, aerating rooms and hallways, using germicidal lamps in vaccination rooms, observing the social distance (no less than 1 m), using hand sanitisers.
‘The state of emergency had a detrimental effect on vaccination. In the first six months of 2020, only 70% of children underwent primary vaccination (compared to 89% in the first six months of 2019), 70% of children showed up for re-vaccination at the age of 2 (compared to 86% in the first six months of 2019), vaccination for 7-year-olds reached 63% of children (compared to 90% in the first six months of 2019), while re-vaccination at the age of 15 was 65% (compared to 92% in the first six months of 2019’, said the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection in an answer to an inquiry of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.
To raise awareness among citizens about the need of immunisation, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, together with the National Agency for Public Health, with the support of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Moldova, in August 2020 launched an awareness-raising campaign under the slogan ‘Vaccinate your children, protect your future!’. The campaign emphasises the importance of immunisation and is meant to take down myths and fake information about immunisation.
‘The wellbeing of the community can be measured by the degree of readiness and capacity to cope with major public health emergencies, including those caused by vaccine-preventable infectious diseases. The society as a whole, as well as each and every one of us, must understand that some infectious diseases that were almost or completely eradicated thanks to immunisations programs can have devastating effects. It is important to understand that vaccination protects not only the vaccinated person, but others as well, thanks to collective immunity’, said the Minister of Health, Viorica Dumbraveanu, at the campaign launching event.
The Republic of Moldova benefits from vaccines of verified quality, purchased through UNICEF that manages, tracks and controls the procurement of vaccines and consumables pre-qualified by the World Health Organization. UNICEF Moldova also supports national capacity building, focusing specifically on health workers’ skills for interpersonal communication related to provision of immunisations services.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic brought us to some extent where we started, when people did not have access to life-saving vaccines. Today, the fear of the unknown and the vulnerability in the face of an aggressive virus can easily recall the quite similar period that our parents and grandparents went through. It is unfortunate that considerable misinformation has also led to a decrease in confidence in vaccines and the vaccination rate of children in the Republic of Moldova. UNICEF Moldova will unconditionally support the authorities' concerted efforts to guarantee access to safe and accessible vaccines to protect children and the population of the Republic of Moldova, and to ensure their right to health and well-being, said Desiree Jongsma, UNICEF Moldova Country Representative.
The vaccines available under the National Immunisation Program Schedule are available free of charge and can be received in Family Health Centres.