There has been an alarming decline in the number of children getting vaccinated for such preventable diseases as diphtheria, tetanus and measles, the United Nations warned Wednesday.
The U.N.’s World Health Organization and UNICEF blame the decline on the disruption of routine health care caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunized than ever before,” WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself.”
The WHO and UNICEF said that even when vaccines are available, many children who need them are afraid to leave their homes because of the coronavirus or the difficulties of traveling because of COVID-19 restrictions.
But even before the pandemic hit, the agencies said, progress in vaccinating children was slipping. They said nearly 14 million children did not get shots against measles and pertussis in 2019. Most of these children live in Africa. Economic hardships also prevented children in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan and the Philippines from getting necessary vaccines.
“COVID-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programs before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”