March 2, 2023

Building back better and resilient immunization programs post-COVID-19: Lessons from five countries

Between 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic severely strained health systems across countries, leaving millions without access to essential healthcare services. Immunization programs experienced a ‘double burden’ of challenges: initial pandemic-related lockdowns disrupted access to routine immunization services, while subsequent COVID-19 vaccination efforts shifted often limited resources away from routine services. The latest World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates suggest that 25 million children did not receive routine vaccinations in 2021, six million more than in 2019 and the highest number witnessed in nearly two decades.

Recovering from this sobering setback requires a united push at sub-national, national, and global levels. Intensifying the catch-up of routine immunization services is critical to reach children left behind during the pandemic and bridge large immunity gaps in countries. At the same time, we must strengthen the resilience of immunization systems to withstand future pandemics if we hope to achieve the goals of Immunization Agenda 2030 to ensure vaccinations are available for everyone, everywhere by 2030. In this article, we spotlight strategies used by five countries—Cambodia, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda—who have exhibited exemplar performance in strengthening routine immunization programs and restored lost coverage levels of the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article will be helpful for countries seeking to maintain, restore, and strengthen their immunization services and catch up missed children in the context of pandemic recovery and to direct their focus toward building better resilient immunization systems that can respond more rapidly and effectively toward new and emerging challenges.

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