Children should be vaccinated, even in the context of a pandemic
In 2020, UNICEF brought to Venezuela 7.3 million vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, yellow fever, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella.
Vaccines help protect children and adolescents against severe, sometimes deadly, diseases. Unfortunately, in Venezuela, preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria have resurfaced. This situation has been compounded by the new challenges in providing health and immunization services due to the constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By protecting children from serious diseases, vaccines play a vital role in putting an end to preventable deaths. That is why UNICEF is maintaining efforts to strengthen the country's capacities to vaccinate children, as well as negotiating the challenges of the pandemic.
West of Caracas, Venezuela's capital, Joel is receiving his polio vaccination. He is one year old, and his mother, Maribel, brought him to the nearest clinic when she found out that regular vaccinations for children were available.
"Today, he received his polio and pentavalent vaccines. His vaccinations were overdue, [he] was very sick. But he no longer has mucus or asthma, so we came to have him vaccinated," says Maribel.
The clinic where Joel was vaccinated has been designated a regular vaccination site as part of the health authorities' efforts to increase immunization coverage among Venezuelan children.
In a community near the clinic where Joel received his vaccination, health workers were deployed to hold a health care day, including children's immunization.
"We carry out immunization in coordination with communities and biosecurity brigades. COVID-19 has meant a drastic change in the way we work, but we are not giving up. The pandemic is not stopping us – we are following the biosecurity measures in order to continue serving the communities," says Dr. Jennifer Moncada, during a vaccination day.
"We have applied to hundreds of children the pentavalent, polio, trivalent viral, toxoid, yellow fever, and hepatitis vaccines, and even given the BCG vaccine to newborns and children up to seven years old. We have designated vaccination posts in the outpatient clinic and we hold community days like this one. The most difficult thing is accessing communities. In many areas there is no transportation, so you have to walk a long way, often going up dirt steps," she says.
Jennifer's workdays are more than 12 hours long. However, she gets her motivation from being able to reach those who need it most. "Every time I see a child receiving a vaccine, it motivates me. We received supplies from UNICEF to carry out these days," she concludes.
UNICEF is bringing vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, yellow fever, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, pneumonia, measles, mumps, and rubella to children across the country. In 2020, UNICEF contributed to 7.3 million vaccines.
In addition, UNICEF provides technical assistance to the country's health teams so that they have the tools that allow them to forecast the number of doses they will need each year and the best time to administer them, and supports national logistical efforts to mobilize health workers on vaccination days in order to reach the most vulnerable, thus helping to reduce coverage inequities.
Jeremiah is nine months old. His mother, Elizabeth, decided to attend the vaccination day when she heard that it would be held near her home. He was given the polio vaccine.
Arantza is six years old. She is waiting to receive her vaccine. With nervous laughter, she watches as her turn to receive the vaccine appropriate for her age approaches. "It's not going to hurt," her mother, Yaritza, keeps telling her. As Arantza proceeds to the vaccination booth, she takes a deep breath, and although tears well up in her eyes, she is happy that the worst part is over – the injection.
If every child received their vaccines, millions of lives could be saved around the world. To contribute to this goal, UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are working in coordination with the country's authorities to support the national immunization programme through the procurement and distribution of vaccines, as well as by strengthening the cold chain to ensure that vaccines are kept at the correct temperatures.