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4 June 2020

A $300 million pledge from the Australian Government to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance will protect millions of children in the Indo-Pacific region against preventable disease, according to UNICEF Australia.   

UNICEF Australia welcomes the pledge which was announced at the Global Vaccine Summit in London. At the summit UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, Gavi and world leaders will come together to protect decades of progress against preventable diseases and mitigate the impact of the pandemic in lower income countries.   

Since the onset of COVID-19, routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of expanded programs on immunization (EPI) in the 1970s.   

UNICEF Australia’s Director of International Programs, Felicity Wever says there is a real risk of an increase of cases of measles, polio, and diphtheria in the Asia Pacific region due to disrupted immunisation services and reduced access to healthcare, endangering millions of children.   

Immunisation programs have been postponed in Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and parts of Vanuatu, due to risk of COVID-19 transmission, social distancing, and lack of resources to deliver the programs. There have been no measles-rubella vaccinations administered in Timor Leste or Papua New Guinea this year.   

While some countries were able to conduct their routine immunisations for measles before COVID-19 struck, polio still poses a risk to Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines, and Timor Leste due to pockets of unimmunized children.   

“If we should learn one thing from this pandemic, it is the devastation the spread of disease can cause. In 2020, vaccinations are available for many diseases and it would be the greatest tragedy of COVID-19 if we did not recognise the power of childhood immunisation programs and ensure we can strengthen immunisation rates for diseases we can prevent,” Ms. Wever said.   

“In Australia we’re extremely fortunate to have the infrastructure to ensure essential services could continue during the pandemic, but our neighbouring countries have been much harder hit by secondary impacts.   

“Some health clinics have had to close because they don’t have running water to maintain basic COVID-19 prevention practices, limited or no access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and unreliable electricity needed to refrigerate immunisations.   

“This pledge will make an incredible difference to access to immunisations in the Indo-Pacific region. Since the onset of COVID-19 access to vaccines has been made more difficult due to the shutdown of transport within countries and closure of ports bringing goods from overseas.   

“We have seen the effects of low immunisation rates in the Papua New Guinea polio outbreak of 2018 and the measles outbreak in Samoa in 2019.   

“UNICEF and the Australian Government have been working in partnership for many years to protect the health and wellbeing of children in the region. UNICEF Australia applauds the Government’s generous contribution to Gavi which will safeguard the progress we have made in containing preventable diseases in the region.”