The Ministry of Health, through Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), plans to carry out an extensive catch-up immunisation campaign targeting children who have missed out on basic childhood vaccinations during lockdown.
In Rwanda, the number of children vaccinated for BCG, Penta3 and Polio3 was lower than expected in 2020 according to a report by World Group Bank on Rwanda economic update of January 2021.
This was mainly attributed to Covid-19 related restrictions that affected mobility since the virus was first reported in Rwanda early last year.
According to figures from RBC, uptake of Penta3 and Polio3 vaccines experienced a decline of 10 per cent in May, 10 per cent in June and it came down to 4 per cent in July 2020 while the BCG vaccine, given at birth, followed a similar pattern with declines during March-May 2020 (highest in May at 15 per cent).
From January to June 2021 nationwide, Dr Hassan Sibomana, Director of vaccine programmes unit at RBC, says "above 80% for all antigens were covered with exception of only Polio 0 given at birth. However, there are variations among districts, with 11 districts recording a coverage of DTP3 below 80%."
World Health Organisation and UNICEF indicated in a recent report that 23 million children globally missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunisation services in 2020 which is 3.7 million more than in 2019.
This being the latest worldwide childhood immunisation figures to reflect global service disruptions due to Covid-19.
"In some countries, clinics have been closed or hours reduced, while people may have been reluctant to seek healthcare because of fear of transmission or have experienced challenges reaching services due to lockdown measures and transportation disruptions," it entailed.
To tackle this, Dr Sibomana said, even though vaccination services are among essential public health activities that have continued to be provided, complying with Covid-19 prevention measures, "there is a planned vaccination campaign in this year which will cover the gap of half or fully unvaccinated children during the lockdown."
"When a child receives any additional dose, it is always an opportunity to boost the immune system, reason for organizing vaccination campaigns," he added.
He also encourages parents and caregivers to respect child vaccination calendars and health centers to continue providing vaccination services in order to prevent cases of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (VPDs) and even possible epidemics.
At birth, a child is given BCG and Polio 0 vaccines, at 6 weeks and 9 weeks, they receive DTP_HepB_Hib, Pneumococcus, Polio and Rotavirus.
When the child gets to 14 weeks, DTP_HepB_Hib, Pneumococcus, Polio, IPV vaccines are given.
At nine months and 14 months, a child is given Measles and Rubella (MR) vaccine.
With many resources and personnel diverted to support the Covid-19 response, officials noted disruptions to immunization service provision in many parts of the world.
"We all need to work together to help countries both defeat Covid-19, by ensuring global, equitable access to vaccines, and get routine immunization programmes back on track," said Dr Seth Berkley, Chief Executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
"The future health and wellbeing of millions of children and their communities across the globe depends on it."