The World Health Organization says the war in Ukraine has interrupted lifesaving immunizations in Ukraine, setting back years of progress in countering vaccine preventable diseases.
This is World Immunization Week, a time to celebrate the marvel of vaccines that have saved the lives of countless millions. WHO spokesman Bhanu Bhatnagar spoke about vaccinations at an immunization center in Rivne Oblast, a Ukrainian province near the border with Belarus.
The center is in a technical college that has been repurposed into a home for some 100 internally displaced people. Bhatnagar says he has come here to support the Ukrainian Health Ministry’s rollout of routine and catch-up immunizations for children, adolescents and adults.
“There are many children streaming through. Parents are bringing their children to catch-up on really important lifesaving, potentially life-saving immunizations from measles, to polio, to diphtheria, tetanus, and, as well the COVID-19 vaccine. ... Internally displaced people are vulnerable. They have been forced from their homes. The health system is in crisis mode and many of them do not have access to health care.”
Bhatnagar says health needs do not stop in a time of war and it is important to keep up immunization activities, especially during the pandemic. Before the war, he says Ukraine was a poster child when it came to health care reform – and was making great strides in preventing vaccine preventable diseases.
Unfortunately, he says this progress has been derailed. He notes there was a polio outbreak in the country just before the war started. He says a rollout of polio vaccines that began February first was disrupted due to the conflict.
“So, that is why again it is really important that we get a polio vaccine into children’s arms. Even one child with polio means that every child is threatened, any under or unvaccinated child…But at this time only 44 percent of the targeted children have been reached with a polio vaccine and that is approximately 69,000 children.”
The WHO spokesman says COVID-19 vaccines continue to be rolled out despite the challenges of the war. However, the country only has 40 percent coverage across the board, which, he says, is lower than average for the rest of the European region.
Latest reports put the number of coronavirus cases at nearly five million, including more than 108,000 deaths.