World Health Organization says 80 million babies are missing out on routine childhood vaccines

Henrietta Strickland
May 23, 2020

"South America has become a new epicenter of the disease", said Mike Ryan, the WHO's top emergencies expert.

Some 80 million children worldwide could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations agencies and the GAVI vaccine alliance said on Friday.

Routine childhood immunizations in at least 68 countries have been put on hold due to the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 worldwide, making children under the age of one more vulnerable.

In a new report issued on Friday, health officials warned that more than half of 129 countries where immunization data were available reported moderate, severe or total suspensions of vaccination services during March and April.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also on the call, did not address the latest US demands that his organization immediately begin investigating the novel coronavirus's source, as well as the WHO's pandemic response.

"COVID-19 threatens to undermine life-saving immunisation services around the world", WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual joint press conference.

The reasons for disruption to immunisation services vary.

Massive disruptions to global immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic have health experts fearful that much of the developing world will not be able to get a vaccine for the new coronavirus, even once one is ready.

Health workers are also less available because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Experts are anxious that worldwide immunization rates, which have progressed since the 1970s, are now being threatened.

Gavi chief Seth Berkley said countries had to do everything they could to keep vaccinating. "Due to COVID-19 this vast progress is now under threat". The report was also produced by UNICEF, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and GAVI.

And in the case of polio, 90 percent of the population need to be immunized in order to wipe out the disease.

More than a dozen countries in Africa have reported polio outbreaks this year, all caused by a rare mutation in the virus contained in the vaccine.

"We can not let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases", said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director.

"As the world comes together to create a lifesaving vaccine for Covid-19, we must not forget those that already exist".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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