Immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health tools for prevention of disease. Its benefits are well documented and include, but not limited to, eradication of smallpox (a dreaded disease), reduction of polio endemic countries from 125 to just 2 and reduction in global incidence of many diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and neonatal tetanus. Immunization has been instrumental in the reduction of global under-five mortality rates and prevents 3.5 to 5 million deaths on a yearly basis.
Despite the benefits of immunization many children miss out and remain unprotected against many vaccine-preventable killer diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected immunization programmes globally including in Nigeria. Pre-COVID-19 global DPT3 coverage was 86% but this has reduced to 81% in 2021. This has led to a pool of 25 million children who are under-vaccinated. Nigeria is reportedly home to 2.2 million of these children. The theme of the World Immunization Week this year is “The Big Catch up” which speaks to ramping up immunization activities to bring immunization to pre-Covid levels and higher while restoring and strengthening routine immunization.
As we join the rest of the world in marking the World Immunization Week, the Paediatric Association of Nigeria urges parents whose children have missed out on their immunizations and those who are yet to commence to take them for immunization. We ask all paediatricians and doctors who see children to review their immunization status and ensure that they catch up on their immunizations. A pool of unimmunized/incompletely immunized children is always a recipe for outbreaks/epidemics. The recent outbreak of diphtheria in some of our states in the country is a painful reminder of what happens when children do not get immunized.
Even though Nigeria’s immunization coverage has improved in recent times the figures are below the African and global averages. Let us create awareness about immunization. Let us carry out immunization related activities including outreaches and advocacy. Let us join in the Big Catch to protect our best resources – our children!