COVID-19 putting routine childhood immunization in danger: UN health agency

27 April 2020

As the new coronavirus continues its relentless march across the planet, with nearly 2.9 million cases reported as of Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) remains concerned about the pandemic’s impact on other health services, especially for children.

In his latest update on the crisis, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported that the pandemic has put polio vaccination campaigns on hold, while some countries have scaled back or even shut down routine immunization services.

“Every year, more than 116 million infants are vaccinated, or 86% of all children born globally. But there are still more than 13 million children around the world who miss out on vaccination. We know that that number will increase because of COVID-19”, he told journalists.

Myths, misinformation and vaccine shortages

Tedros said even where services are operating, some parents are not taking their children to be vaccinated because of COVID-19 fears. Myths and misinformation about vaccines also “are adding fuel to the fire”, putting young lives at risk.

“When vaccination coverage goes down, more outbreaks will occur, including of life-threatening diseases like measles and polio”, he said.

Furthermore, border closures and travel disruptions have led to vaccine shortages in at least 21 low and middle-income countries, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“So far, 14 vaccination campaigns supported by Gavi against polio, measles, cholera, human papillomavirus, yellow fever and meningitis have been postponed, which would have immunized more than 13 million people,” Tedros said, adding “the tragic reality is that children will die as a result”.

Tedros urged countries to support Gavi’s “ambitious goal” of immunizing 300 million more children by 2025, which will require $7.4 billion in funding.

Solidarity flying high

As declining COVID-19 cases lead to an ease in lockdowns across Europe, the WHO chief urged countries to ensure the trend continues by finding and treating all cases, and conducting more extensive contact tracing.

However, Tedros expressed concern about increasing trends in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries.

“As in all regions, cases and deaths are underreported in many countries in these regions because of low testing capacity”, he said.

Therefore, more “solidarity flights” carrying supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers are getting ready for take-off.

More than 40 countries in Africa received shipments during the past week.

Overall, WHO has sent PPE items to 105 countries globally, and lab supplies to more than 127 nations.

“We will ship many millions more in the weeks ahead, and we’re preparing aggressively,” said Tedros.


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Millions more children at risk with immunization services disrupted amid COVID-19 pandemic 

Last year, over 13 million children received no vaccines at all, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling on governments to step up, warning disrupting immunization services amid the COVID-19 pandemic could leave even more of the world’s most marginalized children without access to life-saving vaccines.