Experts warn against non-coronavirus vaccine disruptions

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AMMAN — Once-eradicated diseases may appear again because of the delay or absence of routine vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures, according to health experts, while a health official said adequate attention is being paid to the issue. اضافة اعلان

“You can give students a laptop or a tablet during online learning, but you can’t replace a vaccine,” said Eresso Aga, chief of UNICEF Jordan’s health section.

Typically, Jordan has a strong vaccination program that offers free inoculations at over 600 locations across the country. The 2017–2018 Jordan Demographic Health Survey (DHS) found that 86 percent of the population have received basic immunizations, higher than the WHO global average of 85 percent. According to Assistant Secretary-General for Primary Health Care at the Ministry of Health Ghazi Sharkas, there are two types of vaccines for children: the first, before children start school, is given through health centers; the second is given at schools to children in first grade and tenth grade.

“These vaccines are important because if they are delayed or missed we could see the resurfacing of some diseases that were eradicated,” Sharkas told Jordan News.

Likewise, Aga recalled that in Europe and the United States, lapses in vaccination have led to the outbreak of once-eradicated diseases. In 2019, New York City and Washington declared a state of emergency due to measles outbreaks; measles had been declared eradicated in 2000 by the World Health Organization.

“It’s very easy to have those outbreaks” when vaccination rates drop, Aga said.

“These are serious dangers that can jeopardize this fantastic gain that Jordan has (made) for 20 years. We’ve seen it in many countries.” When the rate of vaccine coverage in a population drops below that required to achieve herd immunity, he explained, outbreaks occur.

A socioeconomic assessment of children and youth during COVID-19 published by UNICEF in 2020 found that the pandemic had significantly disrupted children’s usual vaccination routines. UNICEF reported that in 17 percent of the households surveyed (which were drawn from UNICEF’s beneficiaries), children under five did not receive basic vaccinations (the BCG tuberculosis vaccine, three doses of DPT-IPV-Hib, and one dose of measles).

Jordanian doctor Mohammad Al Thunibat, who now lives in Canada, took to Twitter to alert parents about the serious medical problems that their children will face in the future if they do not follow up on their children’s vaccinations. Thunibat explained in his tweet that if vaccines are ignored due to the closure of schools that typically arrange them for children, “it would be disastrous, and we will be seeing casualties of diseases that have not been seen in decades.”

“During the pandemic and school closures, there was a slight delay in administering vaccines to school children but we managed to catch up when schools reopened, by coordinating with (the Ministry of Education) and school administrations, who in turn informed the parents to bring their children in to get their vaccines,” Sharkas said. He added that while schools have been closed due to the pandemic, school administrators continue to reach out to parents, who then dispatch teams from the Ministry of Health to administer vaccines to children.

Aga attributed the decline in vaccinations during the pandemic to a combination of movement restrictions, including the initial lockdown, during which no vaccinations were given for six weeks, and anxiety about visiting clinics even when they are open. He said that residents of refugee camps, in particular, are scared to contract COVID-19 while visiting clinics to receive vaccinations for other diseases.

However, according to Aga, vaccinations were on the decline in Jordan even before the pandemic, which he linked to the spread of misinformation on social media.

UNICEF provides a variety of support mechanisms for vaccinations in Jordan, including a remote immunization campaign that targets residents of tented settlements, collaborations with the agency’s Makani centers, and support with procurement, such as through the recent donation of 1.3 million syringes for routine immunization.

Aga said that schools are a “key entry point” to administer vaccines for life-threatening diseases such as polio, rotavirus, Diptheria, and tuberculosis. “School is an entry point; we do awareness work, do catch-up immunization — for example for Hepatitis B, but schools are closed right now.” He added that a combination of vaccine hesitancy — i.e. fear to take vaccines — and inequity may drive decreased vaccination rates.

Aga urged all Jordanians to maintain regular vaccination schedules, explaining that millions of dollars have been invested to provide personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, making healthcare clinics very safe. We advise parents to wear their masks and respect the safety rules” at vaccination clinics, Aga said. “The benefits of vaccination are still immense and it saves lives. We advise them to please follow the vaccination schedule. It is safe to take your children to clinics.”

Jordan News sought to obtain comments from the Ministry of Education but they were not available.

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