Coronavirus: UN warns of 'alarming decline' in childhood vaccinations due to pandemic

Even before the outbreak, 14 million children around the world were not receiving vaccinations

A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child. AFP
A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child. AFP

The UN on Wednesday warned of an alarming drop in childhood vaccinations because of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying a child born today is less than 20 per cent likely to have all recommended vaccines by the age of 5.

Most of the 82 countries surveyed in May reported vaccination campaigns being disrupted because of coronavirus.

The study was carried out by the World Health Organisation, Unicef and Gavi, a public-private partnership started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that buys vaccines for about 60 per cent of the world’s children.

It found more than 30 measles campaigns around the world have been halted or are at risk, which could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond.

Preliminary and emerging data from January to April showed there may be a substantial decrease in children completing three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines.

“The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations could be far greater than Covid-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO.

Even before the pandemic, 14 million children around the world were not receiving vaccinations, most of them in Africa where they were unlikely to have access to other health care.

Vaccination rates already have plummeted over the past decade in Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela.

Now it has become harder for health workers to administer vaccines because many have been redirected towards the pandemic response.

In other areas, health workers are having more difficulty because of movement restrictions or lack of personal protective equipment.

Even when vaccines are available, many parents are afraid of taking their children to health centres because of the virus.

“Covid-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge,” said Henrietta Fore, Unicef's executive director.

“We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programmes before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases.

"We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”

The global coverage rate with the third dose of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis has plateaued at 85 per cent since 2010.

The coverage for this critical vaccine, which is a marker for immunisation coverage across countries, could decline for the first time in 28 years, the report said.

In May, Gavi, Unicef and the WHO said millions of infants were at risk as the pandemic disrupted vaccination efforts for other diseases.

In 2019, nearly 14 million children missed out on life-saving vaccines.

Updated: July 16, 2020 10:15 AM

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