Raising a healthier generation with life-saving vaccines

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At least 64% of children aged 12 to 23 months in Nigeria have not received all the vaccines recommended by the National Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in the past five years, from the 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) and National Immunization Coverage Survey (NICS) ).

Growth increases the risk of outbreaks and child mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective proven tools to control and eradicate life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to prevent approximately three million deaths each year.

In order to combat deadly childhood diseases that can be prevented by vaccination, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends routine immunization (RI) for all children and adequate vaccination throughout life.

Current vaccines for routine childhood immunization in Nigeria protect children against tuberculosis, hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, measles, yellow fever and meningitis.

The Nigerian government, in partnership with the WHO, with financial support from GAVI, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and other partners, is implementing free routine vaccination programs in the country’s public health facilities.

At Kuje General Hospital, Kuje Area Council, Abuja, the vaccination clinic is open Monday to Friday and gives all recommended antigens to all children under two years old

For a caregiver like Mrs. Edna Lawrence, her 9-month-old daughter (Ose) did not miss any of her vaccination schedules. Ose was at the clinic to receive measles, yellow fever and vitamin A antigens.

“I want her to be strong and healthy. I know that vaccines can protect her from many diseases, such as tuberculosis, polio and many other diseases.

On vaccination days, I ask permission from my office to take my daughter to the clinic for an injection.

They were very helpful, which enabled her not to miss any vaccine in her schedule. I use this clinic because they always have all the routine antigens and it is close to my home,” she says.

The RI program is designed to allow caregivers to present their children to the nearest health care facility to receive all scheduled vaccines for children from birth to 2 years of age.

Despite the existing vaccination program, the number of children who have never received any vaccine (zero doses) or are not fully vaccinated remains high, due to various factors.

Reasons for low immunization rates include, but are not limited to, fear of side effects, lack of knowledge or information about vaccination, problems with service delivery, distrust and distance to vaccination sites.

For example, Mrs. Seifa Adams almost forced her first child to skip the second antigen regimen (oral polio vaccine (OPV), pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), pentavalent vaccine (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Hib) ) due to the wrong advice of a neighbor.

Thankfully, Ms Seifa did not follow her children’s advice to miss any of the vaccines as her husband insisted, she is following the advice given by health professionals during antenatal services and vaccinations.

“In 2020, I almost missed my son’s vaccination schedule because my neighbor said her children didn’t get those vaccines.

My neighbor has three children. She reported that her co-wives warned her against certain vaccines because of side effects in children. Now I know better and my children do not get sick like hers – she says.

“To prevent misinformation or missed vaccinations or zero-dose incidents, we usually have health interviews with pregnant women and caregivers during birth and vaccination days,” explains Fesobi Oluwabunmi, head nurse at Kuje General Hospital.

Nurse Fesobi explains that they keep vaccination records of children receiving vaccines at the facility and contact caregivers when children miss the schedule.

“We call them and sometimes we go find them with the antigen and vaccinate the children in their homes. The reasons for the shortage of schedulers are financial constraints, lack of time to leave work or travel.”

Like Mrs. Adam’s husband, Mr. Olajide Adiodun, the businessman makes sure that his children do not miss any of their routine vaccinations.

In the case of Mr. Adiodun, he finds time in his busy schedule to accompany his wife to the clinic for the vaccination of his children.

“I follow them to the clinic on vaccination days. It is everyone’s responsibility – not just mothers and healthcare professionals – to make sure all children are fully vaccinated.

I applaud the government, WHO and other partners for providing free vaccines. It relieves parents of huge financial burdens and allows the less privileged to take advantage of life-saving services,” he explains.

As the WHO celebrates its 75th anniversary of improving public health, advancing towards health equity requires understanding where there are gaps in access or uptake of vaccines, why these gaps exist and what can be done to address them.

WHO National Representative Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo stresses the importance of vaccination, saying that WHO will continue to provide technical support to the Nigerian government to ensure that vaccination efforts catch up and no one is left behind from the full benefits of vaccines.

According to him, vaccination should continue to be at the forefront of Nigeria’s national agenda and be part of PHC’s wider revitalization efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

In addition, WHO is providing technical support to the government in its efforts to introduce new vaccines and other strategies, such as an optimized coverage strategy and RI intensification to implement the necessary re-vaccination plans to restore and strengthen immunization and primary care.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) – Nigeria.

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