UNICEF reports that vaccination programs are continuing as normal in most Middle East and North African countries, but children in some of the most at-risk countries and conflict zones are not being reached due to COVID-19 restrictions.
According to UNICEF, the vaccination programs for children under five in Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are in “serious jeopardy” due to the stress placed on supply chains and health resources by COVID-19. The agency predicts 10.5 million children in those countries have yet to receive their polio vaccination this year, meaning the deadly disease successfully eradicated in the region two years ago is at risk of returning.
“Immunization for children is possible even in the time of COVID, using protective measures to protect the child, the mother, and the vaccinator. It is absolutely critical that every child gets immunized against deadly diseases including polio, measles, diphtheria, and hepatitis,” said UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Ted Chaiban.
Meanwhile, measles vaccination campaigns have been suspended in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Djibouti, leaving approximately 4.5 million children under the age of 15 unprotected from the highly contagious disease.
The safe and cost-effective vaccine has resulted in a 73% drop in the mortality rate from viruses worldwide between 2000 and 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Nevertheless, some 140 000 people, mostly children under five, died of measles in 2018.
Chaiban reiterated that vaccinations can be carried out safely, even in the time of Coronavirus. Health professionals can use personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfection protocols, and social distancing to ensure vaccinations are delivered safely and on time to children in the MENA region.
“Last year, UNICEF with partners reached nearly 34 million children with life-saving vaccines including measles and polio across the region. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health systems, as frontline workers are supporting the outbreak response. Despite that, nearly 1.5 million children on average are getting their vaccines every month,” added Chaiban.
UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Branch says it has managed to bring 17.5 million doses of essential vaccines into the region despite COVID-19 restrictions and border closures. They are also working closely with regional partners and governments to monitor vaccine expiry dates and provide the necessary PPE and other COVID-19 fighting equipment to enable the vital vaccination programs to continue unhindered.