- World over at least 80 million kids are at risk of diseases like measles and diphtheria.
- This came as the world is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic and most countries have halted the routine vaccine efforts.
- Health agencies call for joint effort to safely deliver routine immunization and proceed with vaccination campaigns against deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.
At least 80 million children under one at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as COVID-19 disrupts routine vaccination efforts, warn Gavi, WHO and UNICEF.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), along with UNICEF and Gavi Vaccine Alliance, warned on May 23 that at least 80 million children under the age of one year are at the risk of suffering from diseases like diphtheria, polio and measles.
This came as the world is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic and most countries have halted the routine vaccine efforts.
Therefore, amid fears of children being vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, the agencies have jointly called for global effort to safely deliver the immunization and resume vaccination campaigns.
The announcement comes before the Global Vaccine Summit scheduled to take place on June 4 where world leaders are expected to unite and maintain the immunization programmes against the vaccine-preventable diseases.
The summit will also focus on coming up with strategies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in low-income countries.
The statement said, “According to data collected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries.”
The WHO, UNICEF and Gavi also noted that the routine immunization of children has been severely disrupted since March 2020. More than 50% of the 129 countries that are part of the programmes have cautioned of “moderate-to-severe” disruptions or a total suspension of the services especially in March and April this year.
The coronavirus outbreak, which first gripped China in late December 2019, has infected over 5.2 million people across the world. WHO chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that immunization is one of the “most powerful” tools for preventing diseases and any disruption would halt the decades-long progress made in combatting the disease.
“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”
“At the 4 June Global Vaccine Summit in London, donors will pledge their support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to sustain and accelerate this lifesaving work in some of the most vulnerable countries. From the bottom of my heart, I urge donors to fully fund the Alliance. These countries, these children especially, need vaccines, and they need Gavi.”
Vaccinations have been disrupted for several reasons.
Some parents are no longer taking children to clinics because of movement restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus or because they are scared about the risk of exposure to the virus.
Health workers who provide vaccinations have also been diverted to help with the response to the pandemic. A lack of protective equipment means clinicians are reducing the number of people they treat.
Lockdowns and cutbacks in commercial flights have also led to delayed the delivery of some vaccines, leading Gavi to devote funding to ship vaccines around the world.
Officials stressed that keeping immunization programs up and running is crucial not just to prevent the diseases for which there are already vaccines, but because those same networks will be used to distribute vaccines for the coronavirus when available.
“More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history,” Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, said in a statement.
“Due to COVID-19, this immense progress is now under threat, risking the resurgence of diseases like measles and polio. Not only will maintaining immunization programs prevent more outbreaks, it will also ensure we have the infrastructure we need to roll out an eventual COVID-19 vaccine on a global scale.”
Gavi is in the midst of raising $7.4 billion, which it says will help provide vaccines to 300 million children over the next five years.
Mass vaccination campaigns
WHO has since monitored the situation and has now issued advice to help countries determine how and when to resume mass vaccination campaigns.
The guidance notes that countries will need to make specific risk assessments based on the local dynamics of COVID-19 transmission, the health system capacities, and the public health benefit of conducting preventive and outbreak response vaccination campaigns.
Based on this guidance, and following growing concerns about increasing transmission of polio, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), is advising countries to start planning for the safe resumption of polio vaccination campaigns, especially in polio high-risk countries.
Despite the challenges, several countries are making special efforts to continue immunization.
- Uganda is ensuring that immunization services continue along with other essential health services, even funding transportation to ensure outreach activities.
- And in Lao PDR, despite a national lockdown imposed in March, routine immunization in fixed sites continued with physical distancing measures in place.
- In the United States, federal health officials reported earlier this month that routine vaccination of children dropped dramatically in March and April as a result of the coronavirus response.
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