Rwanda's Vaccination Programmes Not Affected By COVID-19, Health Ministry Says

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in April expressed concerns about the Covid-19 epidemic's impact on routine immunisation programmes for children, as they cited that 21 low and middle income countries were already reporting vaccine shortages due to travel disruptions and border closures.

In Rwanda however, the pandemic has not had any significant negative effects on its vaccination programmes according to officials from Rwanda Biomedical Center.

Hassan Sibomana, the Director of Vaccination Unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre told The New Times that Rwanda has been well prepared to administer vaccines on a yearly basis and was therefore not affected by the global shutdown as a result of the coronavirus.

"We have not had any issues with vaccine supply countrywide because we have enough vaccines to cover the whole year and we distribute vaccines to hospitals using the push system (active distribution)," he said.

Rwanda's immunisation coverage is currently at 95 per cent according to the latest survey, which was conducted in 2017.

Every month, about 30,000 doses for each type of vaccine are administered by the health ministry for the routine immunisation exercise.

Routine immunisation involves vaccinating at least six times for every child below 15 months to prevent child mortality.

According to Sibomana, the impact of Covid-19 on the vaccination exercise has been insignificant, since the cumulative vaccination coverage recorded from January to April has been slightly over 90 per cent for each vaccine.

On his part, Felix Sayizonga, the Maternal, Child and Community Health Division Manager at RBC said that while there has been a slight decrease in coverage for some antigens as some children could have missed some appointments due to the limitation of transport and fear of contracting Covid-19, they can still catch up on their routinely vaccination administration.

"It is not too late for these children and this is why we are airing messages on radio and other channels requesting parents to visit the nearest health facility to catch up with immunisation dosage in case they missed any appointment," he said.

Effect on HPV vaccination

On the other hand, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination exercise for the first dose was scheduled for the months of April and May using the school based approach but was disrupted by the schools' closure due to the pandemic.

Sibomana however, said that with the delay caused by the lockdown, preparations are underway to administer the vaccine mid-June at the health facilities, while the second dose will be given in December using the school based approach.

The HPV vaccine is administered twice a year with a six months interval.

Through Gavi, the Vaccine Allinace's Partnership, Rwanda has been able to achieve and sustain vaccination coverage of 93 per cent for the most common infectious vaccine preventable diseases. This has contributed to reducing child mortality.

On June 4, a virtual conference for the Global Vaccine Summit, will be held in London UK, with the aim to mobilise at least US$ 7.4 billion, through its donors to protect the next generation with vaccines and support Gavi's programmes from 2021-2025.

These resources will be complemented by developing countries' co-financing and the vaccine industry's contributions.

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