The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 6.2 million Nigerian children are zero doses (unvaccinated), a consequence of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2019 to 2021.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said this in Abuja last week at a news conference to celebrate the African Vaccination Week (AVW) and World Immunization Week with the theme “The Big Catch-Up’’.
“The Big Catch Up is actually a year-long campaign aiming to reverse the serious setbacks in routine immunization.
“We acknowledge current efforts by government for 83 per cent reduction in circulating Variant Polio Virus type 2.
“Also a significant feat in sustaining certification for the eradication Wild Polio Virus in Nigeria,’’ she said.
Moeti, represented by Dr Walter Mulombo, WHO Country Representative to Nigeria, said that an estimated 33 million children would need to be vaccinated in Africa between 2023 and 2025.
According to her, such will put the continent back on track to achieve the 2030 global immunization goals that include reducing morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.
“In the Africa Region, WHO estimate show that the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine immunization services has driven up the number of zero-dose and under-immunized children
“The effect causes rising by 16 per cent between 2019 and 2021 and pushing the cumulative total (2019–2021) to around 33 million, which represents nearly half the global estimate.
“In Nigeria, WHO estimates that in 2019 to 2021, 6.2 million children are zero dose; a consequence of the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic,’’ she said.
According to her, reaching these children will require renewed and intensified efforts by governments and partners.
Moeti said that to galvanise the commitments required, WHO conducted a high-level event during the African Union Summit in February 2023.
“At the summit, African Heads of State endorsed a declaration aimed at revamping and scaling up routine immunisation across the continent.
“Also, to implementing urgent measures to address persistent bottlenecks in vaccine and health care delivery systems,’’ she said.
The regional director said the day was a global push by WHO and partners to intensify efforts to reach children, who missed vaccinations, as well as to restore and strengthen routine immunization programmes.
“The proactiveness of the government and the National Primary Health Care Agency for implementing the Optimized Outreach Sessions, integration of Routine Immunization during COVID-19 vaccination, Measles and Yellow Fever Supplementary Immunization Activities.
“These are key for the reduction in the high burden of zero-dose children in Nigeria and align the theme for the 2023 AVW celebration.
“The plan to introduce malaria vaccine in routine immunisation and Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV) in 2023 and 2024 are commendable,
“This is as it aligns with establishing a life-course platform for immunization for optimum dividend from vaccination,’’ she said.
Moeti said that the day required the full participation of all key stakeholders including the media to communicate with caregivers to take children for routine immunisation services at the nearest health facility.
She encouraged the media to create awareness to enable children who missed their immunisation schedules to go to the nearest health facility to be assessed and vaccinated appropriately.
According to her, it is necessary to encourage community leaders to take responsibility to organise and participate fully in the conduct of immunization sessions including monitoring uptake of vaccines in the community
“We need to encourage traditional and religious leaders with Civil Society Groups to mobilise the community to always demand and access immunisation services.
“The media should let them know that vaccine is safe and effective against vaccine-preventable diseases”,she said.
The regional director said that for the organisation support for AVW, it was supporting Nigeria’s full participation in the Regional Working Group for Catch-up to ensure effective planning.
She said it would also ensure resource mobilisation for the 20 countries with high burden of zero dose children in the region.
“WHO since 2015 issued revised immunisation scheduled to support the “Big Catch-up” where children who have missed being vaccinated can be safely vaccinated with appropriate vaccines.
“This is part of over 15 guidelines and strategies issued to countries including Nigeria.
“We are also supporting the NPHCDA engagement with 36 states and the FCT to develop tailored strategies to reach zero dose and unimmunised children
According to her, WHO has prioritised technical support for the Zero Dose agenda and the “Big Catch-up” in all the states and the Local Government Areas.
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