80 million babies around the world are at higher risk of diseases like diphtheria, measles, and polio as the coronavirus pandemic hinders routine vaccination programs, global health officials warned Friday.
Vaccine campaigns have been disrupted in at least 68 countries, according to data released by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The interruptions could affect 80 million children under 1 year old in those countries.
The agencies said that the disruptions are occurring at a scale unseen since widespread immunization campaigns began in the 1970s. The countries reported at least moderate interruptions to the programs, with some countries suspending their programs completely. The organizations said 27 countries have postponed campaigns of vaccinations that protect against measles, while more than a dozen have paused some polio vaccination programs.
“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said in a statement. “Disruption to immunization programs from the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”
The WHO said that it will provide countries with recommendations next week for how to continue vaccination programs safely.
Lockdowns and cutbacks in commercial flights have also led to delayed the delivery of some vaccines, leading Gavi to devote funding to ship vaccines around the world.