The long-term health benefits of maintaining essential childhood immunisation programmes in Africa far outweigh the risk of contracting Covid-19 when visiting vaccination clinics, a new study published in the Lancet Global Health journal has found.
According to the study, continuing with routine immunisation programmes may lead to 8,300 additional deaths from coronavirus because of infections picked up when visiting immunisation clinics.
However, the suspension of such vaccination programmes to avoid excess coronavirus deaths could lead to a further 702,000 children on the continent dying from preventable diseases before the age of five.
“Routine immunisation programmes are facing enormous disruption across the globe due to this pandemic,” Dr Tewodaj Mengistu, member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and co-author of the study, said. “Lockdowns make it harder for vaccinators and parents to reach vaccination sessions, health workers are being diverted to Covid-19 response, and misinformation and fear are keeping parents away.
“This important study shows just how big an impact this could have, risking the resurgence of diseases that vaccines have kept largely at bay.”
New analysis carried out by the World Health Organization, Unicef and Gavi in May, found that globally at least 80 million babies are at risk of deadly infectious diseases because of disruption to life-saving vaccinations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fear of the virus, lockdown, social distancing measures and disruptions to vaccine supply chains have all been blamed for the lack of recent uptake in essential immunisations.
However, the study found for every additional Covid-19 death that might be associated with additional exposure to the virus during routine clinic visits in Africa, an additional 84 deaths in children before five years of age could be prevented by continuing with routine vaccinations.
“Even with our most conservative estimates, the benefits of routine childhood immunisation in Africa are likely to far outweigh the risk of additional Covid-19 transmission that might ensue,” Dr Kaja Abbas, a disease modelling expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-author of the study, said.
The study also found that the additional risk of Covid-19 infections would primarily affect adults from the same household.
According to the model, 11 per cent of excess Covid-19 deaths attributable to clinic visits are expected to affect parents or adult carers while 88 per cent are predicted to affect older adults living in the same household as the vaccinated child.
This highlights the importance of shielding older adults and ensuring healthcare providers have proper access to personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of transmission, the researchers said.
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