Covid-19 disrupts Uganda’s immunization program

Coronavirus outbreak

As has been the case with many sectors in the country which have been greatly affected by the deadly Coronavirus, the health sector has not been left out after the country’s immunization program was disrupted.

In April, Uganda received 3,842,000 doses of bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to support routine immunization services throughout the country whereas 810,500 doses of Pentavalent Vaccines also procured by UNICEF with funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance arrived in the country later.

Every month, the Health Ministry provides 141,600 vaccines for the routine immunisation exercise but following the announcement of a total lockdown of several services across the country including both public and private transport means, several mothers could not afford walking long distances to take children to health facilities for immunization.

According to Dr. Alfred Driwale, the Program Manager for Immunization at the Ministry of Health, many children have missed out on their immunization doses due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

“There have been disruptions because of the lockdown measures that have seen many health workers not available due to challenges of commuting from their homes to the health centres,”Driwale says.

“When the mothers take children, some of the medical personnel are not available at the health facilities due to the lockdown.”

This has seen several children either miss out on their follow up doses or missed the entire vaccination due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Programs Manager for Immunization in the Health Ministry notes that well as the numbers were gradually going down as the second quarter of last year set in, the numbers quickly went down with the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was deeply concerned about the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on routine immunization services for children.

“Children may be at relatively low risk from severe disease and death from COVID-19, but can be at high risk from other diseases that can be prevented with vaccines," the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual conference from Geneva.

"But there are still more than 13 million children around the world who miss out on vaccination. We know that that number will increase because of Covid-19.”

Citing Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the WHO chief said at least 21 low- and middle-income countries are already reporting vaccine shortages as a result of border closures and disruptions to travel.

According to Dr. Deogratius Munube, the president Ugandan Paediatrics Association, there will be adverse effects from such illnesses on children who have missed their immunization jabs due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

“For example if a child is supposed to get three dozes of a vaccine but they get one, the biggest challenge is that the one doze will not be effective and will not provide the necessary immunity against a particular disease. It means the child will have to repeat the full cycle of the vaccine,”Munube says.

According to the Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunisation-UNEPI  if routine immunization doesn’t take place, outbreaks for diseases like measles might spring up  to add pressure on the already stretched health systems in the world.

Uganda has performed well in immunization and in 2019, close to eight million children under 5 received a booster dose of bivalent oral polio vaccine to reduce the risk of polio importation from neighbouring countries.

Uganda had its last Polio case in 2010.

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