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IMMUNISATION: Former Health CS Sicily Kariuki comforts a child who was vaccinated in 2019. Photo via The Star


Kenya is among countries where thousands of children missed out on basic vaccines last year, according to official data published yesterday by the World Health Organization and Unicef.

According to Kenya’s Ministry of Health, there was a drop in child immunisation in April and May last year during the lockdown, followed by consistent recovery. However, the figures again dipped in December up to February this year.

“Administration of DPT3 (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine) vaccine varies between counties with some counties recording up to 25 per cent decline in the number of doses administered compared to similar periods last year,” said Agatha Olago, head of family health at the Ministry of Health.

Kenya carried out catch-up immunisation for polio, reaching about three million children. The last dose was given on Wednesday.

Dr Olago, while presenting the Continuity of Essential Health Services During the Covid Pandemic report recently, said the figures are already improving.

Globally, at least 23 million children missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunisation services in 2020 – 3.7 million more than in 2019.

WHO said in most parts of the world, children who missed vaccines are in communities affected by conflict, in underserved remote places, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations, including limited access to basic health and key social services.

“Even as countries clamour to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we have gone backwards on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk of devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio, or meningitis,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

"Multiple disease outbreaks would be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and ensure every child is reached.”

Disruptions in immunisation services were widespread in 2020, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean Regions most affected. 

As the access to health services and immunisation outreach were curtailed, the number of children not receiving even their very first vaccinations increased in all regions. Compared to 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP-1), while three million more children missed their first measles dose globally.

“This evidence should be a clear warning – the Covid-19 pandemic and related disruptions cost us valuable ground we cannot afford to lose – and the consequences will be paid in the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable,” said Henrietta Fore, Unicef executive director.

“Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight to immunise children against preventable child illness, including the widespread measles outbreaks two years ago.

"The pandemic has made a bad situation worse. With the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we must remember that vaccine distribution has always been inequitable, but it does not have to be.”

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and polio had stalled for several years at around 86 per cent.

This rate is well below the 95 per cent recommended by WHO to protect against measles—often the first disease to resurge when children are not reached with vaccines—and insufficient to stop other vaccine-preventable diseases. - JOHN MUCHANGI, The Star

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