UNICEF pushes for children’s Covid-19 vaccine uptake

UNITED Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Tanzania has pledged to support the government and Ministry of Health in strengthening its primary health care system, to respond to the zero-dose issue of childhood Covid-19 vaccine.

According to statement released on Thursday by UNICEF Tanzania Communication specialist Usia Ledama, in Tanzania the number of zero-doze children stands at 400,000.

The statement said that the Fund will support the country by focusing on assessing and identifying zero-dose communities and tailoring strategies to reach the children.

UNICEF will also ensure deployment of community health workers, targeted social and behaviour change communication that improves knowledge and attitudes, increasing the proper vaccine management and storage capacity.

“I am confident that under the excellent leadership of the government and Ministry of Health, and with support from the UN system in Tanzania, including UNICEF and WHO and with the help of development partners, we will see a big reduction in the number of zero-dose children across the country,” Ms Shalini Bahuguna, UNICEF Representative in Tanzania said.

She noted that the public perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined during the Covid-19 pandemic in 52 out of 55 countries studied.

“Today’s report warns a total of 67 million children globally, missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries …in Eastern and Southern Africa, this figure is 4.6 million children, with Tanzania making up over 400,000 of those children,” she added.

Particularly, the statement said that the new UNICEF report shows 67 million children missed out on one or more vaccinations over three years, due to services disruption caused by strained health systems and diversion of scarce resources, conflict, fragility and decreased confidence.

However, the report warns the confluence of several factors suggest the threat of vaccine hesitancy may be growing, the factors include uncertainty about the response to the pandemic, growing access to misleading information, declining trust in expertise, and political polarisation.

“At the height of the pandemic, scientists rapidly developed vaccines that saved countless lives… But despite this historic achievement, fear and disinformation about all types of vaccines circulated as widely as the virus itself,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director said, adding:

“This data is a worrying warning signal; we cannot allow confidence in routine immunisations to become another victim of the pandemic. Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be of more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases.”

She further noted that immunizations have saved millions of lives and protected communities from deadly disease outbreaks “We know all too well that diseases do not respect borders, routine immunizations and strong health systems are our best shot at preventing future pandemics, unnecessary deaths and suffering”

Moreover, she said that to vaccinate every child, it is vital to strengthen primary health care and provide it mostly to female front-line workers with the resources and support they need

“The report finds women are at the front line of delivering vaccinations, but they face low pay, informal employment, lack of formal training and career opportunities and threats to their security” she noted

To address the child survival crisis, UNICEF is calling on governments to double down on their commitment to increase financing for immunisation and to work with stakeholders to unlock available resources, including leftover Covid-19 funds, to urgently implement and accelerate catch-up vaccination efforts to protect children and prevent disease outbreaks.

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