We’ve all seen the shocking projections: at least 80 million children under one are at risk of developing diseases like measles, diphtheria, and polio due to disruptions in routine immunization services because of COVID-19. As we all face a global pandemic and pin our hopes of returning to our routines on the discovery of a preventive vaccine, now more than ever, the world is keenly aware of just how much vaccines are essential building blocks for progress.
That’s why the world’s leading immunization partners–the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance–recently came together to announce a plan to safely restart immunization programs paused due to physical distancing restrictions because of COVID-19. In many communities, it will also take increased outreach and sensitization about the importance of seeking vaccinations, demonstrating how services can be provided safely minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
These recommendations are not a one-size-fits-all solution. It will be up to local health authorities in each country to weigh the risks of delaying vaccination campaigns versus the risks of increased outbreaks of infectious, and often deadly, diseases. Effective screening both patients and health workers for COVID-19 will be essential to safely resuming vaccination activities. Access to important prevention tools like personal protective equipment and hand hygiene supplies is critical to protecting both frontline workers and the public.
Strong support and robust investments in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is another vital element in resuming vaccination campaigns. Gavi is one of the most critical partners in ensuring everyone, everywhere is reached with life-saving immunizations to stop routine vaccine preventable diseases.
Since it began 20 years ago, Gavi has helped vaccinate 760 million people through routine immunization services and one billion through targeted vaccination campaigns to deal with outbreaks and boost immunization rates. The Alliance has also rolled out 496 new vaccines in 73 lower income countries and established global vaccine stockpiles against major health threats such as Cholera, Yellow Fever, Meningitis and Ebola which often debilitate health systems and devastate poorer populations. Gavi will likely be a key distributor of a COVID-19 vaccine once this prevention tool is developed.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it best during a May 22 press conference.
“These countries, these children especially, need vaccines, and they need Gavi.”
On June 4 at the Global Vaccine Summit, global donors will pledge to support Gavi’s work over the next five years. The virtual summit, hosted by the UK government, hopes to raise at least $7.4 billion to deliver an estimated 3.2 billion doses of vaccines and save 22 million lives by 2025. These estimates don’t take into account the lives that Gavi can help save by delivering a potential COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable communities, ensuring equitable access to all.
Gavi has protected a generation of children in the many countries it supports around the world. With the onset of COVID-19, it’s doubly important that we ensure the next generation is protected as well—partnering with global partners like UNICEF, WHO, and the Measles & Rubella Initiative on catch up vaccination campaigns and robust health systems with strong routine immunization services to reach every last child and close immunity gaps. Without Gavi and its partners, poor countries, which are particularly vulnerable, will face both the effect of COVID-19 and the very real possibility of multiple and concurrent outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, increasing deaths among children who are missing critical immunizations.
As the world seeks to accomplish the fastest vaccine development and production in history to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, Gavi is uniquely positioned to inform, fund and accelerate vaccine development and scale up supply given its central role in supporting the delivery of vaccine to countries which make up 47% of the world’s population.
“The best vaccine imaginable is only valuable to the extent we get it to everyone who needs it,” according to Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi’s CEO.
To re-emerge stronger after this pandemic, fully funding Gavi during the Global Vaccine Summit is critical. Gavi’s mission to prevent infectious diseases, protect children through immunization, and ensure safer, more prosperous futures for children, parents and communities delivers on the promise of the Sustainable Development goals. Our historic gains in child survival need to be protected and our global partners supported, if we want to stop the threats of today and tomorrow.
Featured Image Credit: Gavi