Millions of children at risk with immunisation services disrupted amid COVID-19 pandemic

Yoshita Singh

United Nations, Apr 26 (PTI) Millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines against measles, diphtheria and polio due to disruptions in immunisation service amid the spread of COVID-19, the UNICEF has warned.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, measles, polio and other vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children below the age of one every year, the UN Children’s Fund said on Saturday.

Given the current disruptions, the UNICEF warned that this could create pathways to disastrous outbreaks in 2020 and well beyond.

Over 13 million children received no vaccines at all in 2018, it said.

Making its call at the start of the 2020 edition of World Immunisation Week, the UNICEF said that millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines against measles, diphtheria and polio due to disruptions in immunisation service as the world rushes to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The stakes have never been higher. As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, our life-saving work to provide children with vaccines is critical,” UNICEF Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunisation Robin Nandy said.

With disruptions in immunisation services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she stressed that the fates of millions of young lives “hang in the balance.” The UNICEF estimates that 182 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2018, or 20.3 million children a year on average. This is because the global coverage of the first dose of measles stands only at 86 per cent, well below the 95 per cent needed to prevent measles outbreaks.

Widening pockets of unvaccinated children led to alarming measles outbreaks in 2019, including in high-income countries like the US, the UK and France. Meanwhile, among low-income countries, the gaps in measles coverage before COVID-19 were already alarming.

Beyond measles, the immunisation gaps were already quite dire, according to new regional profiles developed by the UNICEF. PTI YAS NSA