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World Immunisation Week: The importance of maintaining routine immunisations

29/04/20

Gillian Ellsbury
Medical Director for Vaccines, Pfizer UK & Ireland

 
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on all our lives. But almost as worrying as the virus itself is the ripple effect it could have on our wider health.

 

As A&E attendance falls to the lowest levels ever reported by NHS England,1 it seems that people are avoiding essential health services to limit the pressure on doctors and nurses and reduce their risk of exposure. This is both admirable and understandable. But it also presents potential danger.

While we all need to play our part and not overburden the system, the NHS has been keen to stress that when it comes to emergencies and health protection, it is very much ‘open for business’. In many cases, that includes our National Immunisation Programme.

As we mark World Immunisation Week, we must heed the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure individuals of all ages remain vaccinated according to our national schedule.2 In 2018, more than half a million children missed their first dose of measles-containing vaccine across the WHO European Region.2 By the following year, over 100,000 people in Europe had been infected by measles across all age groups.2 It is a stark warning for us all.

The UK has not been immune to this problem. Already we have lost our measles-free status due to a rise in cases,3 and we can’t afford to let this highly contagious disease further exploit the current situation.

A decline in the uptake of all routine vaccinations for young children was a concern to health officials even before the pandemic, and while the situation had begun to improve at the end of last year,4 it would be all too easy to lose momentum as an unintended consequence of social distancing.

Already we have lost our measles-free status due to a rise in cases and we can’t afford to let this highly contagious disease further exploit the current situation.

The fact is, ensuring the continued uptake of our vaccination programme is the only way to avoid a future resurgence of life-threatening diseases that have been effectively suppressed. That’s why I want to remind every person in the UK that maintaining vaccinations in line with current guidance is vitally important, be it for themselves, their children or other people they may care for.

Far from increasing the burden on the NHS, vaccinations alleviate it by reducing the likelihood of people becoming unwell. Our public health bodies have been clear that routine immunisations should be maintained even in these challenging times, with priority given to time sensitive vaccines for babies, children and pregnant women, as well as delivering pneumococcal vaccinations for those aged over 65, or in other high-risk groups.5

I know many will be anxious about attending a GP surgery or other health facility when they have been advised to stay at home. It is only natural to have concerns about possible exposure to coronavirus for your family, as well as for yourself.

There may, of course, be times when the safest course of action is to reschedule a vaccination appointment, such as when you, your child or another member of your household is showing symptoms of COVID-19.6 But for the majority, NHS guidance is clear that providing people are well and not self-isolating, they can attend scheduled vaccination sessions.6

In fact, keeping those appointments is among the best things you can do to keep your loved ones safe and to protect our NHS.

Right now, there is much attention on the search for a vaccine that can limit the spread of the coronavirus. For our part, Pfizer is partnering with BioNTech to develop a possible COVID-19 vaccine and we hope to start clinical trials by the end of this month.7 This is in addition to our research collaborations with governments, academia and research institutions to better understand how this virus works and explore treatment options.8

But, while we search for a future solution, we must also take the necessary steps to look after our health today, and follow NHS guidance on the vaccines we do have.

Along with clean water, vaccination is the single greatest contributor to global health.9

We are privileged to have a world-class national immunisation programme that protects us against serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria and measles. Let’s not add to the future burden of those on the frontline, who are working hard to care for us all. We must all play our part by maintaining vaccinations to help keep ourselves safe and well.

 

Related articles:

 

Find out more about Pfizer's global efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

References

  1. Financial Times. Empty non-coronavirus beds raise fears that sickest are avoiding NHS, 10th April 2020. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/d5ac0a79-6647-4f49-bb64-d1cc66362043. [Last accessed April 2020]
  2. WHO/UNICEF. Maintaining routine immunization services vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, 20th April 2020. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/events/events/2020/04/european-i.... [Last accessed April 2020]
  3. Public Health England. Measles in England, 19th August 2019. Available at: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2019/08/19/measles-in-england/. [Last accessed April 2020]
  4. Public Health England. Quarterly vaccination coverage statistics for children aged up to five years in the UK: October to December 2019. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa.... [Last accessed April 2020]
  5. JCVI. Statement on immunisation prioritisation, 17th April 2020. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jcvi-statement-on-immunisatio.... [Last accessed April 2020]
  6. Royal College of Nursing. Overarching Principles for Maintaining the National Immunisation Programme During the COVID-19 Pandemic. April 2020
  7. Pfizer press release. Available at: https://www.pfizer.co.uk/pfizer-and-biontech-co-develop-potential-covid-.... [Last accessed April 2020]
  8. Pfizer press release. Available at: https://www.pfizer.co.uk/pfizer-outlines-five-point-plan-battle-covid-19. [Last accessed April 2020]
  9. WHO. Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Available at: https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/. [Last accessed April 2020]

 

PP-PFE-GBR-2535 / April 2020