WHO says the AstraZeneca vaccine is not a live virus vaccine hence it is biologically and clinically unlikely to pose risk to the child.

For months on end, breastfeeding mothers have been left in the dark concerning Covid-19 vaccination, since they were not included in any of the clinical trials for the drugs.

However, according to the latest advisory by the WHO, breastfeeding women are advised to go for the AstraZeneca vaccine like any other adults.

The global health agency says even though data are not available on the potential benefits or risks of the vaccine to breastfed children, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not a live virus vaccine hence it is biologically and clinically unlikely to pose risk to the child.

“Breastfeeding offers substantial health benefits to breastfeeding women and their breastfed children. Vaccine effectiveness is expected to be similar in breastfeeding women as in other adults,” the WHO advisory says, adding that “WHO does not recommend discontinuing breastfeeding because of vaccination.”

WHO and Unicef recommend that an infant must be breastfed within an hour of birth and should continue at least for the first six months of life.

This year’s theme is, ‘Protect breastfeeding: A shared responsibility’. The day is marked annually across the world every first week of August to spread awareness about its importance.

“Breastfeeding helps children combat infectious diseases, decreases incidences of severity of diarrhoea, lowers respiratory infections, prevents dental caries,” head of Family Health at the ministry Bashir Isaak said.

“Five in ten children die due to malnutrition. Poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding contribute 19 per cent of those deaths,” nutrition officer Rose Wambu, said.

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In a joint statement by the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, note that there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades – with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally – the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains.

“In many countries, the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.”

As Kenya joins more than 120 countries in marking the World Breastfeeding Week, data from the Ministry of Health shows that early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding rates are at 62 and 61 per cent respectively while only 22 per cent consume the minimum acceptable diet.

The country has made great efforts to increase the number of women breastfeeding their babies. Exclusive breastfeeding rates have increased over the years from 32 per cent in 2008 to 61 per cent in 2014, which is higher than the current global average of 41 per cent.

Globally, only 41 per cent of all babies below six months of age are exclusively breastfed and only 45 per cent continue breastfeeding up to 24 months of age.

A decline in continued breastfeeding is noted with an increase in age at 90 per cent for children up to one year and 53 per cent at two years.

The duo said this is a time to revisit the commitments made earlier by prioritizing breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.

They urged countries to ensure the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, established to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry is fully implemented by governments, health workers and industry.

Ensuring health care workers have the resources and information they need to effectively support mothers to breastfeed, including through global efforts such as the baby-friendly hospital initiative, and guidelines on breastfeeding counselling.

Further ensuring employers allow women the time and space they need to breastfeed; including paid parental leave with longer maternity leave; safe places for breastfeeding in the workplace; access to affordable and good-quality childcare; and universal child benefits and adequate wages.

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