By Chioma Obinna
With only 57.2 percent immunisation coverage in Nigeria, United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF will next week launch a new global campaign to emphasise the power and safety of vaccines among parents and wider social media users.
The campaign will run alongside World Immunization Week from 24 to 30 April to spread the message that together communities, including parents can protect everyone through vaccines.
In a press statement issued by the UNICEF, the Chief of Immunization, Robin Nandy said the UN body is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to encourage even greater reach.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute USD$1 to UNICEF for every like or share of social media posts using the hashtag #VaccinesWork in April, up to USD$1 million, to ensure all children get the life-saving vaccines they need.
Nandy explained that vaccines save up to 3 million lives yearly and protects children from deadly, highly infectious diseases such as measles, pneumonia, cholera, and diphtheria. Thanks to vaccines, fewer people died from measles between 2000 and 2017 and polio is on the verge eradication.
Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective health tools ever invented – every $1 spent on childhood immunisation returns up to $44 in benefits.
According to Nandy, “We want the awareness that #VaccinesWork to go viral. Vaccines are safe, and they save lives. This campaign is an opportunity to show the world that social media can be a powerful force for change and provide parents with trustworthy information on vaccines.”
The Interim Director of Vaccine Delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Violaine Mitchell said: “More children than ever before are being reached with vaccines today. We are delighted to work with UNICEF and all the global and country partners around the world who are working tirelessly to ensure all children, especially those in the world’s poorest countries, can be protected from life-threatening infectious diseases.”
Despite benefits of vaccines, an estimated 1.5 million children died of vaccine-preventable diseases in 2017. While this is often due to lack of access to vaccines, in some countries, families are delaying or refusing to vaccinate their children because of complacency or skepticism about vaccines. This has resulted in several outbreaks, including alarming surge in measles in some countries. Uncertainty about vaccines on digital and social media platforms is a factor driving this trend.
Immunisation coverage in Nigeria was 57.2 percent in 2018. This is far below the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) target of 90 percent.
However, the clear benefit of vaccines can be seen in the case of polio, where vaccines have been crucial in eradication efforts. The country has been free of any case of wild polio virus since September 2016 and is on track for being declared polio-free by the end of this year. The success of polio vaccines in eliminating polio has, among other factors, been linked to the low cost and oral administration route of vaccines, enabling mass delivery.