The United Nations warned Wednesday about an alarming decline in childhood vaccinations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the likelihood a child born today will have all recommended vaccines by the age of 5 is less than 20 percent.
Most of the 82 countries surveyed in May reported vaccination campaigns being disrupted because of coronavirus, according to the study carried out by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Gavi, a public-private partnership started by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that buys vaccines for about 60% of the world’s children.
That survey found more than 30 measles campaigns around the world have been, or are at risk of being halted, a move likely to worsen outbreaks of the highly contagious disease.
“The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Even before the pandemic hit, 14 million children around the world already weren’t receiving vaccinations, most of them in Africa. In South America, vaccination rates already have plummeted over the past decade in Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela.
Now it’s become harder for health workers to give vaccines because many have been redirected toward the pandemic response. In other areas, health workers are having more difficulty because of movement restrictions or lack of protective equipment.
Even when vaccines are still available, many parents are fearful of taking their children to health centers because of the virus.
“COVID-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “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.”