Ensuring that Children are Vaccinated Against Preventable Diseases During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Immunization Week is celebrated from 24-30 April 2020 and this year more than ever is an opportunity to mobilize parents, health workers and allies to highlight the importance of immunization to protect children from preventable diseases.

Rana Flowers and Dr Kidong Park
Ensuring that Children are Vaccinated Against Preventable Diseases During the COVID-19 Pandemic
UNICEF Viet Nam\Pham Gia Tung
24 April 2020

Ha Noi, VIET NAM, 24 April, 2020 – With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating attention in Viet Nam and across the world, WHO and UNICEF are calling on national and local health authorities, families and communities, as well as development partners and the private sector to step up efforts to ensure that children continue to receive essential immunization during the pandemic, so that ground is not lost in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. If vaccination continues to be disrupted, those diseases could return, and the world could see vaccine preventable disease outbreaks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health care systems. COVID-19 has already disrupted immunization services in many places because health workers have been reassigned to the pandemic response and in many instances, they have also been discouraged to conduct routine activities involving physical interactions with healthy people. Some parents are consciously avoiding health care facilities, worried that the COVID-19 virus could be transmitted to them and their babies. At this critical time, children are missing important milestones in their immunization schedule and this situation could put their health at risk.  Data from around the world indicate that more than 117 million children are at risk of missing out on measles vaccines globally due to the pandemic, and Viet Nam is not an exception. We have observed in the country a decrease in vaccine coverage and the occurrence of measles and pertussis cases in the first quarter of 2020.   

The science is clear. Vaccines work. They are a safe, effective and life-saving tool against certain diseases that can be deadly for children. Immunization can also protect adolescents, adults, older people, and they keep whole communities safe. Viet Nam strives to improve immunization services across the country. The Ministry of Health works on the basis of scientific evidence to build confidence, trust and demand for vaccination among communities and to counter misinformation spread online. WHO and UNICEF are committed to continue providing fact-based information on vaccines to health authorities, to the public in general and to parents in particular with so that everyone can make informed decisions.

While Viet Nam is on a path to success in containing the spread of COVID-19 now, the fight against that disease may continue for years to come. It should be everyone’s priority to start planning on how we can continue to provide essential health services – including immunization – at any stage of the pandemic.

We are encouraging health services to reach out, and parents to prioritize securing vaccination to protect their children. It is time to setup a plan for routine immunization to return to normal while ensuring social distancing and the safety of health workers and communities. It is also time to work jointly to ensure that those children who missed essential vaccines in the last months are brought up to date with their immunization.  As we have learnt in other crisis, when health workers reach families to immunize children it is also a prime opportunity to attend to other key health interventions. UNICEF and WHO stand ready to continue our support to the Government of Viet Nam in this effort.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what is at stake when communities do not have the protective shield of immunization against an infectious disease. We need to build on past and current experiences to better prepare for future disease outbreaks, and we must act now to develop appropriate strategies with political and financial commitment to protect existing and future immunization services.  Let’s join hands to save lives with immunizations readily available to everyone.

Dr Kidong Park                                                                             Rana Flowers

WHO Representative in Viet Nam                                              UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam