The threat posed by infectious diseases other than Covid-19 must not forgotten, warned European health leaders, who called on countries to keep routine vaccination schedules on track in the wake of the crisis.
With health systems stretched responding to the pandemic and focus placed on finding a coronavirus vaccine, national immunisation programmes were “more critical than ever before”, they stressed.
“I urge countries to maintain immunisation service delivery”
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge
The warning was issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to mark European Immunisation Week 2020, which starts today.
It comes amid concerns about the delay or postponement of measles vaccination programmes for children in some countries around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When routine vaccinations are missed, the risk of disease outbreaks increases, stressed WHO and UNICEF.
In 2018, approximately 527,000 children missed their first dose of measles-containing vaccine in the WHO European region.
One year later, in 2019, the measles virus exposed immunity gaps in Europe, infecting more than 100,000 people across all age groups.
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “We can prevent further impact of Covid-19 on our health care systems by assuring that individuals of all ages remain vaccinated according to national schedules.
“I urge countries to maintain immunisation service delivery and drive demand for vaccination, through the life-course, even at this difficult time.”
“It is critical that routine immunisation programmes continue during this crisis”
The organisations recognised that Covid-19 response measures had the potential to cause temporary interruptions to routine vaccination programmes.
They said in these circumstances, countries should be prepared to concentrate services on higher risk individuals.
However, full immunisation schedules should be resumed as quickly as possible after the situation stabilised, they said.
“We know that vulnerability to infectious diseases anywhere is a threat to public health everywhere,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
“It is critical that routine immunisation programmes continue during this crisis, while adequately protecting health workers and individuals receiving vaccinations.
“Reaching the most vulnerable children who have missed routine immunisations in the past should be prioritised.”