COVID-19 :: Immunization
WHO: Guiding principles for immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
Interim guidance – 26 March 2020
This document provides guiding principles and considerations to support countries in their decision-making regarding provision of immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic and is endorsed by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization. It is complemented by a range of WHO technical materials on response and mitigation measures for COVID-19.4 Each country will need to make individual risk assessments based on the local dynamics of COVID-19 transmission, immunization and health system characteristics, and current VPD epidemiology in their setting.
1. Immunization is a core health service that should be prioritized for the prevention of communicable diseases and safeguarded for continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic, where feasible.5 Immunization delivery strategies may need to be adapted and should be conducted under safe conditions, without undue harm to health workers, caregivers and the community.6
2. VPD surveillance should be maintained and reinforced to enable early detection and management of VPD cases, and where feasible, contribute to surveillance of COVID-19.
3. National authorities will need to continuously monitor the dynamics of COVID-19 in their country or region. National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups (NITAGs) have an important role in providing advice with respect to the maintenance, adaptation, suspension and/or reinstatement of immunization services.
4. If provision of immunization services is negatively impacted by COVID-19, countries will need to design strategies for catch-up vaccination for the period post COVID-19 outbreak and make plans which anticipate a gradual recovery. Implementation of catch-up will require strategies to track and follow-up with individuals who missed vaccinations, assess immunity gaps, and re-establish community demand. Innovation and creativity will be required.
5. Based on the current understanding of transmission of the COVID-19 virus and recommendations for physical distancing, mass vaccination campaigns should be temporarily suspended. Countries should monitor and re-evaluate at regular intervals the necessity for delaying mass vaccination campaigns.
6. The conduct of outbreak response mass vaccination campaigns will require a careful risk-benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis, assessing risks of a delayed response against the risks associated with an immediate response, both in terms of morbidity and mortality for the VPD and the potential impact of further transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
7. Where feasible, influenza vaccination of health workers, older adults, and pregnant women is advised.7
Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on the disruption of immunization and basic health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic
NEW YORK, 26 March 2020: “Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health services as health workers are diverted to support the response.
“Physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunization.
“Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines.
“As the pandemic progresses, critical life-saving services, including immunization, will likely be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are sorely needed.
“At the greatest risk are children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters.
“We are particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan. Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering. At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
“The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19.
“UNICEF is committed to supporting basic health care and immunization needs in the worst affected countries, and to doing so in a way that limits the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are working hard to ensure adequate vaccine supplies are available in countries that need them. We are in close communication with global vaccine suppliers to ensure production is not disrupted and supply is managed in the best possible manner under these difficult circumstances. We are also providing greater support to governments to continue the supply of vaccines during this pandemic.
“In the days to come, governments may have to temporarily postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns in many places to ensure that the delivery of immunization services does not contribute to COVID-19 spread, and to follow recommendations on physical distancing.
“UNICEF strongly recommends that all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children. To successfully roll-out vaccines against COVID -19 when they become available, we need to ensure that our immunization programmes remain robust and can reach those that will need these vaccines the most.
“Immunization remains a life-saving health intervention. As the world’s biggest buyer and supplier of vaccines, UNICEF will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting governments’ current and future immunization efforts.”