As the world scrambles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, last week the world commemorated the World Immunization Week. A very important concept when it comes to the current invisible enemy that almost every country is battling.
World Immunization Week – celebrated in the last week of April (24 to 30 April) – aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.
Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need.
The theme this year is #VaccinesWork for All and the campaign focused on how vaccines – and the people who develop, deliver and receive them – are heroes by working to protect the health of everyone, everywhere.
With over 3 million cases worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed to Covid-19 globally, it is time to look at how vaccination can change the situation and how Covid-19 has impacted the vaccination programs worldwide.
Many strategies to deal with the pandemic have proved to be quite challenging especially in developing countries.
Around 100 organisations or companies from all over the world are currently working on Covid-19 vaccine. It is estimated that, the vaccine may be ready by the end of 2020 or early 2021, if that will be the case, then it will be the fastest developed vaccine to exist. Vaccine development usually take decades, but this is not the case for it is a public health emergency.
Vaccines have been around the world for decades, and have helped eliminating and containing many infectious diseases. Mass vaccination has proved to be effective in building herd immunity and preventing avoidable deaths.
Smallpox has been eliminated by vaccines. Many countries have been declared Polio-free because of vaccines.
While Covid-19 is showing an evolution in vaccine development, it is also hindering already existing vaccination programs.
With travel bans and restrictions, this pandemic is posing a major threat to rural areas for re-emergence of almost eliminated infectious diseases as a result of inadequate vaccination.
Stay-home-orders, self-isolation and fears of being infected, many parents may opt not to take their children for immunization as a way of protecting them from getting Covid-19.
The World Health Organisation is working constantly with partners and scientists to accelerate vaccine development for Covid-19, but we must also ensure people are protected against those diseases for which vaccines already exist.
Countries like Tanzania should take what steps they can to sustain immunization programmes and prevent unnecessary loss of life.
Public health officials and other healthcare workers have to work harder during this time to educate the public on vaccination and stop the misinformation.
Vaccines save lives. Covid-19 has helped us to have discussions on vaccine trials, development and ethical considerations.
It is time to make use of the lessons learnt and practice them to avoid further impact of this pandemic.
The author is the medical doctor based in Dar es salaam