Covid-19 disrupts routine childhood immunisation programmes

Covid-19 has disrupted routine childhood immunisation programmes, leaving about 228 million children vulnerable to deadly, but preventable diseases such as measles, yellow fever and polio, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Monday.

Briefing the media on Covid-19, WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said many countries had suspended child vaccination programmes as a result of the pandemic.

The remarks by the WHO chief come at a time when the world is observing the Word Vaccination Week, commemorated every year during the last week of the month of April.

“New WHO data shows that as a result of COVID-19, 60 immunization campaigns are currently suspended in 50 countries,” decried Ghebreyesus.

“That means about 228 million children are vulnerable – right now – to deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, yellow fever and polio. Measles campaigns are the most affected, accounting for 23 of the postponed campaigns. Many measles campaigns have now been delayed for more than a year.”

He said targeted campaigns to prevent or respond to outbreaks, routine childhood immunization services continued to be disrupted by the pandemic.

“The latest WHO pulse survey shows that routine immunization services were disrupted in more than a third of countries in the first quarter of 2021,” he said.

“While this represents a significant improvement over last year, it remains a serious concern. Gaps in vaccination coverage are already having grave real-world consequences. Serious measles outbreaks have occurred in several countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Yemen.

Ghebreyesus said the risk of measles outbreaks was also mounting elsewhere, as more and more children miss out on the vaccines they so urgently need.

“So we must turn the tide quickly and rebound from these disruptions,” he emphasized.

“WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and other partners are working with countries to ensure that immunization services are restored quickly and safely. But we must not forget that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 20 million children missed out on lifesaving vaccines each year.”

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