Benefit-risk analysis of health benefits of routine childhood immunisation against the excess risk of SARS-CoV-2 infections during the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa

Status: Paper under peer review | First online: 07-04-2020 | Last update: 01-05-2020

This study has not yet been peer reviewed.

Background: National immunisation programmes globally are at risk of suspension due to the severe health system constraints and physical distancing measures in place to mitigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our aim is to compare the health benefits of sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa against the risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infections through visiting routine vaccination service delivery points.

Methods: We used two scenarios to approximate the child deaths that may be caused by immunisation coverage reductions during COVID-19 outbreaks. First, we used previously reported country-specific child mortality impact estimates of childhood immunisation for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal, rotavirus, measles, meningitis A, rubella, and yellow fever (DTP3, HepB3, Hib3, PCV3, RotaC, MCV1, MCV2, MenA, RCV, YFV) to approximate the future deaths averted before completing five years of age by routine childhood vaccination during a 6-month Covid-19 risk period without catch-up campaigns. Second, we analysed an alternative scenario that approximates the health benefits of sustaining routine childhood immunisation to only the child deaths averted from measles outbreaks during the Covid-19 risk period. The excess number of infections due to additional SARS-CoV-2 exposure during immunisation visits assumes that contact reducing interventions flatten the outbreak curve during the Covid-19 risk period, that 60% of the population will have been infected by the end of that period, that children can be infected by either vaccinators or during transport and that upon child infection the whole household would be infected. Country specific household age structure estimates and age dependent infection fatality rates are then applied to calculate the number of deaths attributable to the vaccination clinic visits. We present benefit-risk ratios for routine childhood immunisation alongside 95% uncertainty range estimates from probabilistic sensitivity analysis.

Findings: For every one excess Covid-19 death attributable to SARS-CoV-2 infections acquired during routine vaccination clinic visits, there could be 140 (37 - 549) deaths in children prevented by sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa. The benefit-risk ratio for the vaccinated children, siblings, parents or adult care-givers, and older adults in the households of vaccinated children are 53,000 (3,400 - 21,865,000), 47,000 (3,000 - 19,340,000), 2,000 (410 - 12,000), and 154 (40 - 617) respectively. In the alternative scenario that approximates the health benefits to only the child deaths averted from measles outbreaks, the benefit-risk ratio to the households of vaccinated children is 5 (1 - 21) under these highly conservative assumptions and if the risk to only the vaccinated children is considered, the benefit-risk ratio is 2,000 (131 - 839,000).

Interpretation: Our analysis suggests that the health benefits of deaths prevented by sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa far outweighs the excess risk of Covid-19 deaths associated with vaccination clinic visits. However, there are other factors that must be considered for strategic decision making to sustain routine childhood immunisation in African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. These include logistical constraints of vaccine supply chain problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, reallocation of immunisation providers to other prioritised health services, healthcare staff shortages caused by SARS-CoV-2 infections among the staff, decreased demand for vaccination arising from community reluctance to visit vaccination clinics for fear of contracting SARS-CoV-2 infections, and infection risk to healthcare staff providing immunisation services as well as to their households and onward SARS-CoV-2 transmission into the wider community.

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