Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the utilization of routine immunization services in Lebanon


Introduction: The global abrupt progression of the COVID-19 pandemic may disrupt critical life-saving services such as routine immunization (RI), thus increasing the susceptibility of countries to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). Being endemic to several infectious diseases, Lebanon might be at increased risk of outbreaks as the utilization of RI services might have deteriorated due to the pandemic and the country's political unrest following the October 2019 uprising. The aim of this study was to assess the changes in the utilization of RI services in both the public and private sectors following the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: A self-administered cross-sectional survey was completed electronically, in April 2020, by 345 private pediatricians who are registered in professional associations of physicians in Lebanon and provide immunization services at their clinics. Means of the reported percentages of decrease in the utilization of vaccination services by pediatricians were calculated. As for the public sector, an examination of the monthly differences in the number of administered vaccine doses in addition to their respective percentages of change was performed. Adjustment for the distribution of RI services between the sectors was performed to calculate the national decrease rate. Results: The utilization of vaccination services at the national level decreased by 31%. In the private sector, immunization services provision diminished by 46.9% mainly between February and April 2020. The highest decrease rates were observed for oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) and hepatitis A, followed by measles and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines. The number of vaccine doses administered in the public sector decreased by 20%. The most prominent reductions were detected for the OPV and measles vaccines, and during October 2019 and March 2020. Conclusion: The substantial decrease in the utilization of RI as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic requires public health interventions to prevent future outbreaks of VPDs.