80 mn infants at risk as COVID disrupts immunisation services

The UNICEF supported Adam Darmal Clinic in Kandahar, in the Southern region of Afghanistan, has WASH, NUTRITION, EDUCATION and HEALTH programs. For every child, the chance to a good start in life.

New Delhi (NVI): About 80 million infants across the world are at risk of having diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio as the vaccination services have been disrupted due to coronavirus pandemic, global health organisations warned today.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, GAVI, the vaccine alliance and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the 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.

Since March 2020, routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of expanded programs on immunization (EPI) in the 1970s.

More than half (53%) of the 129 countries where data were available reported moderate-to-severe disruptions or a total suspension of vaccination services during March-April 2020, said a joint press statement issued by these organizations.

“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

”Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, ” he added.

UNICEF has reported a substantial delay in planned vaccine deliveries due to the lockdown measures and the ensuing decline in commercial flights and limited availability of charters.

To help mitigate this, UNICEF is appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said, ”We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases.”

Fore added, ”We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera. While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another.”

Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said that on June 4 at the 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.

The reasons for disrupted services vary. Some parents are reluctant to leave home because of restrictions on movement, lack of information or because they fear infection with the COVID-19 virus. And many health workers are unavailable because of restrictions on travel, or redeployment to COVID response duties, as well as a lack of protective equipment.

“More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history,” Gavi CEO added.