16 Sep 2020

Covid-19 threatens routine Pacific immunisation: UNICEF

4:25 pm on 16 September 2020

The United Nations Children's Fund is warning the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening child immunisation routines in the Pacific.

UNICEF Pacific representative, Sheldon Yett.

UNICEF Pacific representative, Sheldon Yett. Photo: Twitter / Sheldon Yett

The region was hit with a measles outbreak last year, particularly Samoa where 83 people, mostly children, died.

The UN agency revealed there had been a decline in child vaccination coverage in the region, as the pandemic fostered fear and uncertainty.

UNICEF's Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett, said he was concerned this could lead to populations of children susceptible to disease.

"We have seen a drop-off. A small drop-off and fear where some mothers are afraid to take their children to get essential vaccines," he said.

"That's a problem. We know diseases like measles and other diseases can be very dangerous for children continue. The focus is on Covid-19 but there are other issues out there as well."

Yett said healthcare disruptions caused by Covid-19 could have a devastating impact on child mortality.

According to health leaders and providers in New Zealand, the country was vulnerable to measles.

More than 2000 people contracted the disease last year - even though it was declared eliminated in New Zealand in 2017.

Two unborn babies died and 783 people were hospitalised.

Pasifika in South Auckland were disproportionately represented and it's likely the first case in Samoa's outbreak came from New Zealand.

Taratiteiti Kirition holding her 1-year-old daughter Pepeeti while a nurse gives her an immunisation shot at a Kiribati clinic

Taratiteiti Kirition holding her 1-year-old daughter Pepeeti while a nurse gives her an immunisation shot at a Kiribati clinic Photo: UNICEF

Fiji satisfied with its immunisation routine: minister

Fiji's Health Ministry said it had one of the highest immunisation coverages globally and had not lapsed in this area.

Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete said Covid-19 did not erase other diseases and their impacts.

But Dr Waqainabete said the government would ensure every child in Fiji received their full immunization routine.

"As soon as a child is born. From their birth registration, we understand where they would be going next in terms of their clinics and they are being watched," he said.

"And if they do not turn up for their vaccination, our teams actually go to their address, calls them or visits them and tries to understand the reasons why they haven't had their vaccine."

Dr Waqainabete said getting children immunised was part of Fiji law.

These vaccines were essential for protecting children from infectious diseases such as measles, rubella, tuberculosis, mumps or polio, he said.

"Part of the Child Welfare Act is actually the rights around a child," he said. "The rights to health and education.

"So using that, we can be able to talk with the parents about the importance of actually making sure they have the immunization."

Earlier, the World Health Organisation, (WHO), said the misinformation about vaccines was also adding fuel to the fire, putting young lives at risk.

The WHO warned the "avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations could be far greater than Covid-19 itself".

Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete

Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete Photo: Fiji Govt

Covid-19 impact on children lifelong: UNICEF report

Meanwhile, a new report released by UNICEF revealed the pandemic was having profound effects on children's mental health, social development, safety, privacy, economic security and beyond.

The report Humanitarian Action For Children also said the impact of the global crisis on children would be lifelong.

Sheldon Yett said while the majority of children had been spared Covid's direct health effects, the crisis is affecting their well-being.

"There are unseen issues," he said. "There are issues of mental health. There are issues of social health.

"When we see day after day images on TV of family members getting sick, there's a mental toll here. A toll of anxiety, sadness and lack of hope."

Yett said the impact of Covid-19 was also expected to be most damaging for those children who were already in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.