The performance of routine immunization in selected African countries during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic


Introduction: following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020, countries started implementing strict control measures, health workers were re-deployed and health facilities re-purposed to assist COVID-19 control efforts. These measures, along with the public concerns of getting COVID-19, led to a decline in the utilization of regular health services including immunization. Methods: we reviewed the administrative routine immunization data from 15 African countries for the period from January 2018 to June 2020 to analyze the trends in the monthly number of children vaccinated with specific antigens, and compare the changes in the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results: thirteen of the 15 countries showed a decline in the monthly average number of vaccine doses provided, with 6 countries having more than 10% decline. Nine countries had a lower monthly mean of recipients of first dose measles vaccination in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter. Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Gabon, and South Sudan experienced a drop in the monthly number of children vaccinated for DPT3 and/or MCV1 of greater than 2 standard deviations at some point in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the mean for the months January-June of 2018 and 2019. Conclusion: countries with lower immunization coverage in the pre-COVID period experienced larger declines in the number of children vaccinated immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Prolonged and significant reduction in the number of children vaccinated poses a serious risk for outbreaks such as measles. Countries should monitor coverage trends at national and subnational levels, and undertake catch-up vaccination activities to ensure that children who have missed scheduled vaccines receive them at the earliest possible time.