The World Health Organization and UNICEF have warned of expansive disruptions to global immunization programs for children because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-fought progress to reach more children with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been negatively affected by a decade of stalling coverage.
“The likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time she reaches the age of 5 is less than 20%,” UNICEF stated in a news release.
About 75 percent of 82 countries surveyed in May reported disrupted vaccination campaigns due to the contagion, according to a study carried out by UNICEF, WHO and Gavi, a public-private partnership started by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that purchases vaccines for about 60% of the world’s children.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunized than ever before,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programs continue.”
The reasons for the disrupted services can vary greatly. Even when vaccinations are offered to the public, people are sometimes unable to access them because of their reluctance to leave home, economic hardships or the fear of being exposed to individuals infected by the coronavirus.
Many health workers are also unavailable to assist because of travel restrictions and the lack of protective equipment.
“COVID-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programs before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”
In 2019, roughly 14 million children weren’t able to receive life-saving vaccines, such as for measles and DTP3. Most of them reside in Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services as well.
Two-thirds of them are concentrated in 10 middle- and low-income countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.