“I’m very happy that I‘m still able to get my child vaccinated according to the immunization schedule recommended by doctors,” says Inna Iachimenco, a Ukrainian mother who fled to the Republic of Moldova along with her 2 sons in early March, after the first gunshots and explosions were heard near their home in the Sumy region.
Since the first day of the war, the Republic of Moldova has been providing free health and immunization services to Ukrainian refugees entering the country. So far, more than 1000 doses of routine vaccines, including those against measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), poliomyelitis, and diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, have been administered to refugee children. In addition, 1150 adult refugees have been vaccinated against COVID-19 while in or transiting through the country.
Aware of the benefits of immunization, Inna was keen to get her youngest son, Maxim, vaccinated against MMR as soon as he reached his first birthday – the age at which children are eligible for the joint vaccine. Although now far from his home in Ukraine, Maxim was still able to get this important first shot as scheduled.
“All unvaccinated children are a health hazard for other children with a weak immune system. I recommend other mothers to follow my example and suggest they read about vaccination only from official sources, not from social media groups,” says Inna.
Inna’s older son has also received all his recommended shots. “He is already a teenager. Vaccines have protected him from infectious diseases. He had no side effects,” she continues. “I care about my children, so I choose what is best for them. I feel safer knowing that they are protected from diseases.”
Raisa Ursu, a nurse from the Calarasi Health Centre who has been vaccinating refugees, explains, “Vaccinating children and adults against infectious diseases is the simplest and most cost-effective prevention option available. Vaccines are a shield against these dangerous diseases, which can cause severe illness or death.”
Raisa adds, “Thanks to immunizations, many diseases that were once common are now at their lowest levels in history.”
“We are putting all our efforts into delivering aid to those most in need, particularly the vulnerable, including older people, those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and children. Closing gaps in coverage with routine and COVID-19 vaccines is a priority now to protect both local and refugee communities, ensuring no one is left behind,” says Dr Miljana Grbic, WHO Representative in the Republic of Moldova.
To date, well over 500 000 refugees have entered the Republic of Moldova since the beginning of the war. Of these, approximately 80 000 (half of whom are children) are residing in the country. All refugees have free access to the same vaccination services that are available to all residents in the country.
With WHO support, the national health authorities have been implementing prompt public health actions to prevent the occurrence and spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. From the first days of the war, WHO has supported the development of immunization guidelines, conducted critical risk assessments and held a series of workshops to strengthen efforts to close immunization gaps.
WHO has also placed an emphasis on ensuring refugees at border crossings, refugee centres and health-care facilities have access to essential information on immunization services and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Funding from a joint project of the European Union and WHO/Europe to support the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination in the Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – has been repurposed to address the immediate health needs of the conflict-affected population of Ukraine.