Suspension of vaccination due to COVID-19 increases the risk of infectious diseases outbreaks - UNICEF and WHO

Press Release on the occasion of the World Immunization Week 2020

30 April 2020

KYIV, April 30, 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that infectious diseases know no borders. The urgent need for a COVID-19 vaccine underscores the pivotal role immunizations play in protecting lives and economies. Today, national immunization programmes are more critical than ever before. Governments must use every opportunity possible to protect people from the many diseases for which vaccines are already available.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine are concerned that due to COVID-19, vaccination has been interrupted in many regions of Ukraine. When children miss vaccinations in line with the schedule, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks increases. It is critical to continue vaccination and ensure proper conditions for this:

  • immunization services and waiting areas should be separated from curative services (i.e. separate times of the day or separate spaces depending on the facility).
  • scheduled times for individual immunization appointments and limit the number of caregivers present at an immunization visit
  • bundling immunization activities with other essential preventive health services, as appropriate for age to limit the amount of time vaccinees and their caregivers are spending at health service centers;
  • hand sanitizer or hand washing units for public use at the entrance to the health facility;
  • healthcare staff wearing proper personal protection equipment in vaccination points.

Where COVID-19 results in temporary interruptions of vaccination services, the resumption should be planned as soon as possible.

“In Ukraine, in addition to COVID-19, there are other infectious diseases. And while there is no vaccine against COVID-19, there are effective vaccines against many other dangerous diseases, such as measles, diphtheria, and others, that can easily kill a child and an adult. It is important that parents continue vaccinating children in line with the vaccination schedule even during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for authorities - to ensure vaccination goes on and patient flows are separated at healthcare facilities, ”said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.

“Despite significant advances in the immunization program in recent years, Ukraine remains vulnerable to many vaccine-related infections and is at the top of the list of countries in the European region with a high risk of measles and polio outbreaks. It is vital to stay vigilant and reinforce capacities to enable early detection and management of disease cases, as well as vaccination of anyone who has contact with patients. Disruption of immunization services, even for short periods, will result in an accumulation of susceptible individuals and increase a likelihood of outbreaks, which  may lead to deaths and additional strain  on health systems already overloaded by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, " - said Dr. Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

Countries should be prepared to vaccinate those at higher risk and ensure that everyone, including the most marginalized, get equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

In Ukraine, from 2017 to 2020, more than 115,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health, contracted measles, resulting in 41 deaths, including 25 children. During the last several years, cases of a fatale dangerous disease, diphtheria, were recorded. Although vaccination coverage is increasing in Ukraine, it is still insufficient to reliably protect children and adults from infectious diseases.

UNICEF and WHO continue to support the Government of Ukraine in implementing the national immunization program.

World Immunization Week is celebrated annually in the last week of April (April 24-30). Its purpose is to promote vaccination to protect people of all ages from infectious diseases. The motto for Immunization Week 2020 is #VaccinesWork for all.

Media contacts

Nina Sorokopud
Chief of Communication
UNICEF in Ukraine


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