African Children Missing Out On Life-Saving Vaccines Due to Covid-19

Geneva — The World Health Organization warns that millions of children in Africa are not receiving life-saving vaccinations against preventable killer diseases because most efforts are focused on ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Latest WHO figures find more than 4.4 million COVID-19 cases on the African continent, including 118,000 deaths.

Crucial immunization campaigns against diseases such as measles, polio and yellow fever have been put on hold while countries tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, the World Health Organization reports that 15 African countries last year delayed measles immunization campaigns to deal with the pandemic. WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says seven of these countries have since completed the campaigns, but eight have not, risking outbreaks of this deadly disease.

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“Preliminary data show that an estimated 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned supplemental measles vaccine doses between January 2020 and April 2021,” Moeti said. “As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously exposed to other preventable diseases.”

Moeti says hopes are growing that vaccines will help bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. At the same time, she says many of the millions of African children who are not being reached by routine vaccinations are at risk of dying. She says this must not and need not happen.

Sierra Leone’s minister of health and sanitation, Austin Demby, agrees. He says vaccines really do work, and regular vaccinations for children must be maintained. He says immunization coverage in his country has improved steadily in the past five years before the COVID-19 outbreak. As a consequence, he says Sierra Leone has gone for a number of years without major outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and yellow fever.