The impacts of the covid-19 pandemic on childhood immunization

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Co-author: Mariana Marins. Nurse, specialist in family health. Master in Education from the Fluminense Federal University. Experience in managing a basic health unit in the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro and currently Health Manager in the Municipality of Maricá.

The covid-19 pandemic caused a huge setback in childhood vaccination in the years 2019 and 2020, worldwide. According to Unicef ​​and the World Health Organization, an estimated 23 million children have not received routine basic vaccines.

In Brazil, according to information from the Ministry of Health’s DATASUS, vaccination coverage rates have been falling more and more. Vaccination rates against the Triple Viral (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) fell from 86.2% in 2017 to 71.4% in 2021. Polio immunization showed an even more significant drop in adherence, falling from 96.5% in 2012, to 67.6% in the last year. In 2021, rotavirus vaccination also showed an 18% drop in adherence.

During the pandemic period, the drastic reduction in childhood vaccination dramatically increased the risk of the return of fatal diseases, which were previously controlled and/or eradicated.

This situation was a reflection not only of the fear that families had of exposing their children to the new coronavirus, but also of misguided guidelines, including from some municipalities, that children should stay in their homes, in social isolation and avoid attending the units. healthcare in order to reduce exposure to the virus.

It is important to note that these guidelines contradict the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics, that even during the pandemic period, the National Childhood Immunization Calendar should be maintained.

immunization

Immunization against covid-19

In 2020, there was still no vaccine against covid-19 and new strategies were created for the vaccination of the elderly, indigenous population and health professionals – groups with greater risk of contamination and worsening at the beginning of the pandemic – and justifies the vaccination of almost 100% of these groups. Children, however, were not initially included in the vaccination campaign against covid-19.

Although there was an increase in the rate of vaccination of the elderly, the indigenous population and health professionals in 2020, the following year there was a drastic reduction, as these were the first groups to enter the groups for the vaccination campaign against covid-19 — initiated in February 2021 — and received the recommendation to wait 15 days between vaccination for covid-19 and influenza.

It should be noted that the lack of knowledge about influenza and the widespread disclosure about the coronavirus may have given the general population the false impression that when vaccinated against covid-19 they would also be immunized against the flu.

Childhood influenza vaccination: Ministry of Health reduces age range for national campaign

It is worth noting that the vaccination campaign against covid-19 is still in progress and that the country is in the period of childhood vaccination. In the meantime, children from the age of five are recommended to prioritize vaccination against covid-19 and to take at least 15 days to be vaccinated against influenza if they fit into a target audience, such as indigenous people and comorbidities.

From this perspective, it is worth informing that vaccination against the coronavirus is optional for children aged 5 to 12 years and that the child who appears at the health unit in this age group must be informed that they are not included in the priority group of the 24th National Vaccination Campaign. against Influenza, however, may have its vaccination book evaluated to update the vaccines of the National Immunization Plan (PNI) and the National Plan for the Operationalization of Vaccination against Covid-19 (PNO).

Children from six months to four years, 11 months and 29 days will be in the vaccination group of the Influenza and Measles Campaign, which will take place between April 4 and June 3.

Therefore, it is expected that there will be a greater intensification of childhood vaccination and an improvement in adherence as a result of the decrease in cases of covid-19 in Brazil and, as a result, the pandemic.

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