The Ministry of Health and Social Services has observed waning public trust in vaccines in recent years with a low uptake of childhood immunisation, particularly immunisation against measles and Rubella.
This comes as the country also failed to meet Covid-19 vaccination target of 70 percent.
This is a concern as immunisation is an essential life-saving service in preventing severe illnesses among children, adults and pregnant women, making it critical in reducing maternal and neonatal deaths.
Health Minister, Kalumbi Shangula, said, ‘’the Ministry has also recorded a reduction in immunisation of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV), Rotavirus and Pneumococcal vaccines in recent years.’’
He says these trends may have serious repercussions on the country, particularly with the re-emergence of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) that has been reported in Malawi and Mozambique, as well as the circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (VDPV) in the sub-region.
‘’Low immunisation amongst children means children are susceptible to several childhood diseases and risk hospitalisation and even death at a very young age. It is important to note that if every Namibian child or at least 90 percent of our children are up to date with their routine immunisation, then diseases such as measles and polio and many others mentioned above are completely preventable,’’ the Minster said.
Shangula emphasised that it is of utmost importance that parents and all leaders advocate
and ensure children get taken to the nearest outreach vaccination site or clinic or hospital to
get all vaccines they are eligible for to keep them healthy.
Furthermore, he said vaccinated children grow up to be healthier adults as children who complete their immunisation schedule recover from childhood diseases faster, if they get sick compared to those who did not.
The minster shared these remarks at the launch of the National Integrated Vaccination Campaign.
In terms of the campaign, he said, that teams of supervisors of immunisation at both regional and national levels will be dispatched prior and during the campaign to enhance quality and accessibility of service to the communities.
‘’They will also engage in information dialogues and listen to members of communities to identify challenges being experienced in accessing services. There will be another team of independent monitors that will be dispatched to all regions to monitor service provisions and ervice access,’’ Shangula said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the recent measles outbreak in Omusati Region in April 2022 proved Namibia’s vulnerability to vaccine-preventable diseases as outbreaks occur every few years in areas with low vaccine coverage and where there is an accumulation of persons who have never been infected or vaccinated.
‘’Measles is the fourth leading cause of death in children less than 5 years of age in many African countries. It is urgent therefore, that Namibia has a measles vaccination campaign to mitigate further spread, in order to avoid similar outbreaks from happening. We would not have had an outbreak such as the one in Omusati, had we have our Measles vaccination coverage of above 95% for the first and second doses,’’ said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.
She therefore encouraged the nation to take vaccination seriously and to ensure that children are also vaccinated on time and on schedule.
Moreover, despite tremendous progress, vaccination coverage has plateaued and dropped since the advent of Covid-19 pandemic and associated disruptions over the past two years.
By the end of 2021, all countries had introduced Covid-19 vaccination. At present, more than 12.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered and 62.4% of the eligible population has been vaccinated.
However, in Namibia, only 26.3% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, 43 % short of the national target.
Shangula said it is therefore critically important to upscale vaccination coverage against all vaccine-preventable diseases, including Covid-19 and this shall be achieved through the launch of this integrated vaccination campaign.