117 Million+ Children May Miss Immunization Due to Covid19 Lockdown
Physical distancing caused by the Covid19 outbreak might lead to millions of children missing their routine immunization, according to a joint statement by the Measles & Rubella Initiative: American Red Cross, U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), United Nations Internation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Though the WHO recommends that countries should continue routine immunization as an essential service, it recommends that preventative immunization campaigns remain halted temporarily. This is because mass immunization would go against social distancing. However, experts have warned that halting mass immunization might hurt large scale health and safety against disease outbreak in multiple countries. Thirteen and a half million children have already missed out on vaccinations for polio, HPV, measles, jaundice, cholera, and meningitis since the temporary halt of mass immunization, according to a report by Science Magazine.
The WHO, in a statement, said “Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases could be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling the impacts of COVID-19, and substantively increase sickness and fatalities. Last year, measles caused more than 6000 deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a country fighting its largest Ebola outbreak – as the country faced a deadly convergence of diseases.”
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Due to a pause in the polio vaccination program, countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan are recording an increase in polio cases. In India, routine immunization programs have come to halt in areas like Jharkhand, due to the nationwide lockdown. In countries with strict lockdowns like Uganda, a 60-80% drop in the number of children arriving for routine immunization was registered.
Another potential side effect to the temporary halt in mass immunization is that children will not receive timely access to the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine. This vaccine, administered to protect children against tuberculosis and meningitis, is also under trial in several countries for potential effectiveness against more intense pathogens, like the novel coronavirus. While the WHO remains conservative, stating that it will evaluate evidence once multiple clinical trials end, other research suggests that countries with BCG vaccine policies like India had fewer Covid19 cases than others.
In a statement, the United Nations Children’s Fund recommends that governments immediately start planning to intensify large scale immunization after Covid19 is under control. UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore added, “These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children.”