Coronavirus pandemic halts vaccination for nearly 80 million children

80 million children at risk of measles, polio as vaccines disrupted: WHO, UNICEF - International - World

80 million children at risk of measles, polio as vaccines disrupted: WHO, UNICEF - International - World

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

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The coronavirus pandemic is interrupting immunization against diseases including measles, polio and cholera that could put the lives of almost 80 million children at risk, according to a new analysis on Friday May 22, 2020, from the World Health Organization and partners. They said 80 million children under the age of 1 were living in those countries.

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.

If these continue to disrupt programs, GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said, much of the world may also be unprepared to administer vaccines against COVID-19 being developed by more than 100 projects worldwide.

The reasons for disruption to immunisation services vary.

The pandemic has disrupted vaccination programs in at least 68 countries, according to a joint news release by World Health Organization, the global vaccine initiative Gavi, the United National Children's Fund UNICEF and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

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Fragile health care systems are coming under strain from COVID-19, with cases in parts of Africa escalating and Brazil's count of people stricken now at over 300,000, with over 20,000 deaths.

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

"If we neglect the supply chains and immunisation infrastructure that keep these programmes running, we also risk harming our ability to roll our the COVID-19 vaccines that represent our best chance of defeating this pandemic, when they are ready", he said.

UNICEF has also reported a delay in vaccine deliveries because of coronavirus restrictions and is now "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".

Experts say children need routine immunizations before the age of 2.

"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 executive director.

"We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera", she said.

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