Immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases is essential to protect children

African Vaccination Week 2020 focuses on the importance of immunization in a time of COVID-19.

UNICEF South Africa
Infant-receiving-vaccination
UNICEF South Africa/Hearfield
24 April 2020

This year, African Vaccination Week (AVW) will take place from 24 – 30 April, highlighting the importance of vaccinations in protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Providing vaccination services is one of the safest, most cost-effective tools to save children’s lives.  Immunization gives children a chance to grow up healthy, go to school and reach their fullest potential.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t leave children vulnerable to disease and let COVID-19 put their lives further at risk,” says Dr Mariame Sylla, Health Chief of UNICEF South Africa. “Immunization is an essential service, even during COVID-19, and is safe and free in all public health facilities in South Africa.”

“Immunization is an essential service, even during COVID-19, and is safe and free in all public health facilities in South Africa.”

Dr Mariame Sylla, Health Chief of UNICEF South Africa

When vaccination services are disrupted, even during emergencies, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks increases. Without vaccines, outbreaks of these diseases may result in increased illness, worsen malnutrition and even deaths among children, and further burden the health system already under pressure due to COVID-19.

“There is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but safe and effective vaccines do exist for vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination is the only way to protect against diseases like measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and some types of pneumonia and diarrhea that can be fatal.

“If more children are immunized in the community, the risk of spreading infections such as measles from one person to another is minimized.”

Dr Mariame Sylla, Health Chief of UNICEF South Africa

Globally, global vaccinations are still far from the 95% coverage needed to fully protect communities from vaccine-preventable diseases, and 13 million children are not receiving any vaccines.

“If more children are immunized in the community, the risk of spreading infections such as measles from one person to another is minimized,” said Dr Sylla. She urged parents and caregivers to get their children immunized as soon as they could, while following national guidance on keeping safe from COVID-19. Having up-to-date vaccinations will protect children from these diseases when they return to school.

UNICEF-SA is supporting the South African Government’s plans to intensify immunization programmes once COVID-19 is under control, to avoid outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.