COVID-19 Disrupts Childhood Vaccination Programs

Among the lessons learned from the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is that global health is local health: In today’s world, diseases in one country can quickly spread to others. It’s therefore alarming to see that that the World Health Organization (WHO) in conjunction with UNICEF reports a significant “decline

in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world” due to COVID-19 disruptions. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports similar findings for the U.S.

According to a new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey,  conducted in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, three quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunization programmes as of May 2020. The reasons for disrupted services vary. Even when services are offered, people are either unable to access them because of reluctance to leave home, transport interruptions, economic hardships, restrictions on movement, or fear of being exposed to people with COVID-19. Many health workers are also unavailable because of restrictions on travel or redeployment to COVID response duties as well as a lack of protective equipment.

Unintended Consequence

While global vaccination programs were sliding backward even before the pandemic, the COVID-19 related disruption is occurring at a scale larger than any since the advent of immunization programs in the 1970s. Estimates suggest 80 million babies worldwide are now at higher risk for diseases such as diphtheria, measles, and polio—potentially life-threatening diseases, all of which are preventable with immunizations.

According to an article in STAT, a CDC study reported that in the U.S. “childhood vaccination efforts nearly ground to a halt between March 13 — when the national emergency was declared — and April 19.”

Are Your Kids’ Vaccines Up to Date?

As a pediatrician and scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program reminds us, “Routine immunizations in young children are critical to maintain during the pandemic. The usual childhood diseases are still around and we need to protect our children from them.”