The government is deploying all efforts and resources to fast-track the delivery of the routine child immunisation vaccines that are in short supply in the country.
Three out of the 13 vaccines used for routine child immunisation have been in short supply since the last quarter of last year.
They are vaccines for Measles-Rubella, Oral Poliomyelitis vaccine (OPD) and Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) disease.
The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman- Manu, who gave the assurance at a press briefing in Accra yesterday, said the shortage was purely due to global supply chain disruptions and not because the government owed the Global Vaccine Alliance, GAVI.
He said since June last year till now, the government had paid almost GH¢72 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI).
“It is very false for anybody to rumour that the country owes GAVI, resulting in the shortage. We do not owe GAVI,” he insisted.
“It is true we have had some vaccine shortages in the country since the last quarter of 2022. The vaccines in short supply are BCG, Measles-Rubella (MR), and Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). This shortage is nationwide,” Mr Agyeman Manu said.
The minister’s assurance yesterday comes after the Daily Graphic in its Thursday, February 23, 2023 edition broke the news about the widespread shortage of some routine childhood immunisation vaccines in the country.
The situation was perceived to have the potential to increase the vulnerability of children to the diseases the vaccines sought to protect them against.
Daily Graphic reporters across the country visited primary healthcare facilities to ascertain the veracity of the situation which was confirmed by caregivers, directors and mothers.
The minister said the Ministry of Health had been making efforts in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners to ensure that the country secured adequate stocks of vaccines in spite of the global challenge.
“The recent shortage in vaccines for measles, as regrettable as it is, is symptomatic of the steady global decline in measles vaccination production since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Agyeman Manu said.
“The Ministry of Health has been seriously concerned about the shortage of some childhood vaccines and their effect on the Vaccination Programme in the country. This is a major source of worry for the ministry, partners, caregivers and population,” the minister stated.
“We are aware of the implications of the shortages, including disease outbreaks, and effects on child survival,” he admitted.
He said the government had made all necessary efforts to ensure that in spite of the challenges, the country secured adequate stocks within the next few weeks.
No measles death
Mr Agyeman Manu also explained that there had not been any measles-related deaths as a result of the vaccine shortage.
“It is important to correct the erroneous impression that there have been deaths from measles in the country recently. For the avoidance of doubt, there have been no deaths from the recently recorded spike in measles cases.
“Indeed there have been no deaths since 2003 though we have recorded cases annually,” the Minister of Health stated.
The Ghana Health Service indicated that there had been a total of 153 reported cases of measles with no deaths since the last quarter of 2022 till date.
Mr Agyeman-Manu said the country had achieved a routine child immunisation vaccination coverage of 95 per cent, making it one of the best in West Africa and beyond, a feat he said the government was determined to protect.
“The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) has been a flagship disease control programme in the country and arguably one of the best programmes if not the best in the sub-region with high coverage levels of over 95 per cent, he said.
He added that the country had an established system for forecasting, procuring, supplying and distributing routine vaccines, and monitoring their use.
He said despite this challenge, the country’s immunisation performance coverage remained among the best in the world.
Mr Agyeman Manu indicated that the Ministry of Health would ensure that the government stayed on track with its immunisation record and quickly overcame the bottlenecks.
No cause for alarm
The Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, also assured families of eligible children that the GHS would ensure that the children got the vaccines within the required time frame.
He said as usual, a mop-up vaccination would be conducted to ensure all eligible children were covered with their shots.
“There is no cause for alarm or anxiety over any consequences the perceived lapse in administration time might cause because there is nothing like that. Vaccines are such that it is only when a required second dose is taken before the required grace period, which is often six weeks, that it would not work.
“But any time lapse after the six weeks would virtually have no consequence. It would provide the expected protection it’s supposed to,” the Director-General said.
Dr Kuma-Aboagye further explained that there was no time lapse because the periods or time allocated for the routine immunisation was specific to the country based on the situation but did not mean that the schedule was the global norm to warrant consequences if not given at those times.
He said every jurisdiction had its own routine for administering childhood vaccines.
However, Dr Kuma-Aboagye said all timeframes and intervals fell within globally accepted spacing of the immunisation.
The GHS Director-General said BCG, for example, the country chose to administer it at birth but it did not mean it could not be given later.
“Most people deliver at home and report to health facilities after weeks for these vaccines and when we administer, it provides the needed protection,” he explained.
“This is why I am asking the public not to worry or be anxious as we work around the clock to rectify the problem,” Dr Kuma-Aboagye stated.
The country embarks on routine vaccination for babies from birth to 18 months.
Babies at birth are administered with Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) disease; Oral polio vaccine (OPV) and hepatitis B.
The next, which follows when the baby is six weeks old, are Oral polio vaccine 1; Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) ( DPT/Hep B/ Hib 1, which are six infectious diseases that are particularly dangerous to babies.
The combined vaccination enables maximum protection to begin as soon as possible after birth.
They are also given Pneumococcal 1 for protection against infections caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus.
Pneumococcal infections can range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections.
They are also given vaccination against Rotavirus 1, a very contagious virus that causes diarrhoea.
At 10 weeks, the babies receive Oral polio vaccine 2; DPT/Hep B/ Hib 2; Pneumococcal 2 and Rotavirus 2.
At 14 weeks, they are administered with DPT/Hep B/ Hib 3; Oral polio vaccine 3; Pneumococcal and Inactivated Polio Vaccine.
At nine months, babies are given vaccines against Measles-Rubella 1 and yellow fever and at 18 months they receive inoculation against Measles-Rubella, Meningitis A and also given the Long-Lasting Insecticidal Net (LLIN).
The country effectively introduced childhood immunisation in 1978. It was expanded countrywide in 1985 to expand immunisation coverage among children under the age of one from six per cent to 80 per cent against six diseases: tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, and measles (now measles rubella).