Officials warn about drop in childhood vaccination due to COVID-19

July 17, 2020

As feared among the many downstream impacts of the pandemic, early data show a decline in childhood immunizations that could reverse years of hard-won progress, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said in a statement. The global COVID-19 total climbed to over 13,400,000 cases, and almost 600,000 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

In May, health officials warned that the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting routine vaccine services in 68 countries and called for joint efforts to safety deliver them. And now, preliminary vaccine coverage estimates from the first four months of 2020 show a substantial drop in the number of children receiving all three doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DPT3) vaccine, considered a marker for immunization coverage within and across countries. The WHO said the drop in DPT3 coverage is the first in 28 years.

Though progress on vaccine coverage has stalled over the past decade, health officials have been able to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, such as the expansion of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to 106 countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the avoidable suffering and death from children missing out on routine vaccines could eclipse that of COVID-19. "But it doesn't have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programs continue," he said.

A new survey conducted by the WHO and its partners, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other groups in the United States, found that three-fourths of the 82 countries that responded said COVID-19 disruptions have affected immunization programs as of May. Service disruptions vary, and even when services are available, people are reluctant to leave home and struggle with transportation availability, economic hardships, movement restrictions, and fears of being exposed to the virus. Health workers delivering vaccination services have also faced travel restrictions, deployments to COVID-19 activities, and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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