The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on health systems, and its latest casualty – delayed childhood vaccinations – poses a much larger threat to the health of children.
The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 80 million children younger than one are at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as Covid-19 disrupts routine vaccination efforts.
In July last year, Rwanda launched a mass vaccination campaign against measles following an outbreak of the child killer disease. At the end of last year, an outbreak of polio was declared in the Philippines and Malaysia.
Now health experts fear an outbreak of polio in the Americas due to a delay in vaccinations and surveillance.
South Africa is not immune. The numbers of childhood vaccinations dropped dramatically countrywide, from more than 80% by April last year to just 61% of children being up to date with their vaccine schedules in April this year.
Paediatricians are warning of a resurgence of other illnesses if they don’t catch up with vaccinations by the end of this month.
Professor Gregory Hussey – director of Vaccines for Africa, a nonprofit academic unit at the University of Cape Town – has described the situation as a “time bomb”.
“If for any reason there is a measles or rotavirus epidemic, we’re in trouble, big trouble. Covid-19 is not going to go away,” he says.
Government is making a concerted effort to get the immunisation programme back on track, starting this week. And it’s not a day too soon.
The last thing our health system needs is an outbreak of one of these diseases as we face a second wave of Covid-19.
Parents have a duty to keep their children safe. Having them inoculated is easy and free if you go the state route, so there is no reason to not do it.