UNICEF issues immunisation plea to parents of young children amid alarming report

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service

An impassioned plea is being made to parents and guardians to ensure their infants receive the scheduled routine childhood vaccines to reduce threats of vaccine-preventable diseases, amid reductions in the procedure.

The appeal comes from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica Health Specialist Novia Condell, following the release of the UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2023 Report on Thursday.

In the report, which was designed to examine what needs to be done to ensure that children everywhere are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, Latin America and Caribbean saw the biggest decline in routine immunisation of any region in the world, with a drop from 93 per cent to 75 per cent over the last 10 years.

“We don’t want to see the days when we are getting cases of polio — these are things we have done and dusted. These are diseases that are entirely preventable. So why would we not prevent them for the health of our children and our population? We are appealing to communities, parents, to remember that there is a schedule we must stick to when we are looking at ensuring the health and well-being of our children,” Condell told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

Condell described the figures for Latin America and the Caribbean as, “terribly concerning” as many children across the region have never received any vaccination which puts public health, and the survival of the children, their families and their communities at risk.

“We note that there are so many children across our region who are referred to as zero-dose children, which means that they have never received any [DPT] vaccination,” she said.

“Latin America and the Caribbean once led the world when it came to vaccines. We were the global leaders in terms of taking this aspect of child health very seriously and ensuring that children have life-saving vaccines and were able to thrive and survive well into their childhood. This is a matter of great concern,” she added.

The report also pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic set back childhood immunisation around the world. UNICEF estimated that 67 million children missed out entirely or partially on routine immunisation between 2019 and 2021, while 48 million children missed out on them entirely.

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic declined vaccination rates to levels not seen since 2008, the report added.

According to report, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced childhood immunisation as it placed huge new demands on health systems, which they were often ill-equipped to cope with and it exacerbated existing shortages of health workers.

It also placed heavy strains on front-line health workers, mostly women who were also coping with additional care burdens at home and recommendations and fear of contracting the virus from the health-care facilities which left families to put off vaccinating children.

Vaccines, the report said, save 4.4. million lives every year, which could rise to 5.8 million by 2030, if the goal of the Immunisation Agenda 2030 — international community’s vision and strategy to ensure that immunisation leaves no one behind over the next decade — are met.

In the meantime, Condell said UNICEF Jamaica continues to support the Ministry of Health and Wellness in targeting families with infants, to get scheduled routine childhood vaccines.

“We are working with the health ministry. We have seen how tirelessly our health care workers work. We have been in the clinics, we have seen how they go into communities, trying to reach out to parents. Our health system in Jamaica has been at it to make sure they get the children who have been missing their vaccination and we are supporting the children in this regard,” she said.

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