Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on the disruption of immunization and basic health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic
25 March 2020
UNICEF On 27 January 2020, Mama Bwanga, 25, holds her son, Dieu Merci, 1 month, as they wait to be seen at a health clinic in Nsele district, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Bwanga’s two youngest children, sons Dieu Merci and Mélé, 7, will receive measles vaccines; daughter Raissa, 10, has already been vaccinated.
NEW YORK, 26 March 2020: “Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health services as health workers are diverted to support the response.
“Physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunization.
“Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines.
“As the pandemic progresses, critical life-saving services, including immunization, will likely be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are sorely needed.
“At the greatest risk are children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters.
“We are particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan. Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering. At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
“The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19.
“UNICEF is committed to supporting basic health care and immunization needs in the worst affected countries, and to doing so in a way that limits the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are working hard to ensure adequate vaccine supplies are available in countries that need them. We are in close communication with global vaccine suppliers to ensure production is not disrupted and supply is managed in the best possible manner under these difficult circumstances. We are also providing greater support to governments to continue the supply of vaccines during this pandemic.
“In the days to come, governments may have to temporarily postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns in many places to ensure that the delivery of immunization services does not contribute to COVID-19 spread, and to follow recommendations on physical distancing.
“UNICEF strongly recommends that all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children. To successfully roll-out vaccines against COVID -19 when they become available, we need to ensure that our immunization programmes remain robust and can reach those that will need these vaccines the most.
“Immunization remains a life-saving health intervention. As the world’s biggest buyer and supplier of vaccines, UNICEF will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting governments’ current and future immunization efforts