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As COVID-19 threatens, Pacific children’s lives are at stake with many children at risk of missing out on basic vaccines

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UNICEF
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Suva, 27 April 2020 – As the Pacific Islands are responding to the threat of the global pandemic COVID-19, many children are in danger of missing out on life-saving vaccines against measles and other diseases due to the slowing down or disruptions in immunization services.

Last year, over 80 people died from a measles outbreak in Samoa, the majority children. American Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga also declared measles outbreaks. Pacific Island countries and areas responded with supplemental immunization activities to protect children, close existing immunity gaps in the childhood immunization programmes and vaccinate adults at risk of infection.

The current threat of COVID-19 puts gains achieved through immunization at risk. This World Immunization Week, WHO and UNICEF are calling on and supporting Pacific Island countries and areas to continue routine immunization services where possible while ensuring the safety of parents and health workers.

“We are working with Pacific countries and partners to expedite catch up programmes in places where immunization services have been disrupted due to COVID-19. In 2019, very high coverage of measles vaccination was achieved across the Pacific in response to the re-emergence of measles but we cannot afford to fall behind in immunization, which remains one of the most effective public health programmes in reducing childhood illness and deaths,” said Dr. Corinne Capuano, WHO Director of Pacific Technical Support.

Facing the acute threat of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have temporarily postponed planned mass vaccination campaigns. However, there is a need for countries to start rigorous planning now to strengthen immunization programmes to close immunity gaps and avoid outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

“Immunization is an essential health service, and just as vital now as ever,” UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett said. “While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of COVID-19, delivering the immunizations that keep children safe is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases.”

He added that parents should follow the guidance set by national governments in the countries they live. Parents should continue to protect their children through routine vaccination, while following guidance on preventive measures including physical distancing. Pacific health authorities are working to ensure that immunization clinics continue to deliver routine immunizations while ensuring that children, their carers and health care workers are protected from COVID-19.

Amidst COVID-19 challenges across the Pacific, including border closures, WHO and UNICEF are working closely in partnership with Pacific governments and other partners to ensure there are adequate vaccine supplies available in countries that need them.

Providing immunization services is one of the safest and most cost-effective tools to end vaccine-preventable child deaths. WHO and UNICEF work closely together to ensure that commitment to child rights is matched with action for every child in the Pacific by improving routine immunization coverage, which saves children’s lives.

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Notes to Editors:

About WHO:

The World Health Organization is the United Nation’s specialized agency for international public health. In the Pacific, WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support provides tailored, timely support to 21 Pacific island countries and areas. Our main office is in Suva, Fiji, and the Division has six other offices across the region: the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

About UNICEF:

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information about UNICEF Pacific and its work for children, follow UNICEF Pacific on Twitter and Facebook

For more information, please contact:

JIN Ni, WHO Pacific, Tel: +679 7779722, jinn@who.int

Zubnah Khan, UNICEF Pacific, Tel: +679 7157586, zukhan@unicef.org