Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination rates have dropped in countries all over the world on an unprecedented scale. Routine healthcare services have been disrupted and many people have also been reluctant to go to appointments, for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 80 million children under 1 year old, in rich and poor countries, are now at risk of life-threatening but preventable diseases like meningitis, measles and diphtheria.
As children start to return to school in August and September in some parts of the world, the risk of serious diseases spreading increases if people do not get their routine immunizations. At the time of writing, major health bodies, including the WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Association of Pediatrics, have advised parents to contact their child’s healthcare provider about catch-up immunization programs, an essential service.
What could happen if vaccine rates remain low?
Across the US, as in many other countries, vaccination rates have plummeted during the Covid-19 pandemic:
It isn’t just an issue in the US, however. In Europe, uptake of routine vaccines has decreased so much that outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases seem inevitable if nothing changes and schools go back for Autumn/Winter term 2020. Likewise, across East Asia and Pacific, many countries have witnessed severe disruptions to routine immunization programs.
Patsy Schanbaum knows better than most the impact that vaccine-preventable diseases can have. In 2008, Patsy’s 20-year-old daughter Jamie fell ill with meningitis and was hospitalized for 6 months. Both her legs below the knees were amputated, as well as most of the fingers from both hands.
Before Jamie almost lost her life, Patsy was not made aware of the importance of vaccination against meningitis. Through The JAMIE Group, Patsy and Jamie now campaign for schools and colleges to make meningitis vaccines mandatory for new students.
We have all witnessed the pandemic that Covid-19 has caused. I don’t know that anything could have prepared us for what the year would look like for ourselves, much less for our kids. As a mother and grandmother I see this in my own family. I’ll be honest it has been scary.
I have heard of some states and families opting out, not seeking or receiving vaccines due to fear of Covid-19. Although being quarantined may reduce risks of potential exposure to other diseases, there is no safe way to ensure that your child is protected besides vaccination. Make sure your child’s vaccines are up to date before school starts!
Patsy and Jamie of The JAMIE Group, USA
Rekha Lakshmanan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at The Immunization Partnership, USA, said:
We can empathize with each other during this scary and uncertain time. While we cannot prevent Covid-19 through a vaccine-yet, we can prevent other devastating infectious diseases like measles, polio, and meningitis. Now more than ever, staying up to date on routine vaccinations is important. We do not want to tax our health care system and our health care providers any more than we have to. Preventing what is preventable through vaccination will help keep our children and families healthy.
You can download the infographics above and raise awareness with your networks here.
Protecting more than just ourselves: what is herd immunity?
For nearly all vaccines, if enough of the population are vaccinated against a disease, it is much slower to spread. This kind of group protection is called herd protection, herd immunity or community immunity. The percentage of the population who need to be immune from a disease to stop it spreading varies from disease to disease. Measles, for instance, is very contagious, so 90-95% of the population need to be immunized for there to be herd immunity. This means that a drop in vaccination rates could have an impact on herd immunity, making contagious diseases more likely to spread.
Some people, who may be too young or have lowered immune systems, cannot receive vaccines that protect them from serious diseases. If you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and vulnerable groups in your community.
It is very important to not rely on everyone else being vaccinated for protection. As social distancing measures start easing, people will start being in contact with lots of different groups, increasing the likelihood that you will encounter more potentially harmful germs.
When children, adolescents and students go back to school and university, they will be in close contact with large groups of people. Patient advocacy groups focused on meningitis are particularly concerned due to adolescents and children being considered at-risk groups for meningitis. Anyone can get meningitis, though, so actively preventing it is important for people of all ages due to the devastating consequences associated with the disease.
Vaccines save lives, prevent devastating consequences of diseases and relieve our healthcare systems from additional burdens.
Diseases like meningitis can have a life-changing impact for survivors and family members. The good news is that there are vaccines available which prevent diseases like meningitis. While children under 5 and young adults are most at risk, anyone, of any age, can get meningitis, so it is important that everyone is protected against the disease. For vaccines to work, people need to ensure they have received theirs.
The pandemic is a stark reminder of how fast a disease can spread without a vaccine to protect us. As we commemorate National Immunization Awareness Month in the US and countries start to open back up, raising awareness of the importance of vaccines is urgent. To help people raise awareness of this issue with their networks, CoMO has produced and published a series of infographics that anyone can download and share on their social media channels. We all have the power to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the community from the spread of preventable diseases so let's start today!