Tens of millions of children around the world have been denied life-saving vaccines against measles in both rich and poor countries due to COVID-19 disruptions, with fears of further outbreaks this year, reports The Guardian.
Since March, routine childhood immunisation services have been disrupted on a scale unseen since the 1970s, according to the World Health Orgainsation (WHO). Data collected by Unicef, the GAVI Alliance, WHO and Sabin Vaccine Institute found in May that immunisation programmes had been substantially hindered in at least 68 countries, leaving 80m children under the age of one unprotected from diseases including measles, tetanus, polio and yellow fever.
Although progress on immunisation coverage was stalling even before the pandemic hit, limited access to health centres, a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, and fear of contracting COVID-19 have all contributed to major disruptions in the delivery and uptake of vaccination programmes.
At least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or remain at risk of being cancelled, according to Unicef’s chief of immunisation Dr Robin Nandy. “We were seeing an increase in the spread of measles globally over the past two years, even before the pandemic hit, so obviously now with COVID and the associated disruptions, we are more concerned,” Nandy is quoted in the report as saying.
“These outbreaks are not limited to low-income countries or countries with weak systems in Africa or south Asia. They extend to a number of middle-income countries in the Americas, such as Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico, where in 2019 we saw worrying trends, including up to a 20 percentage point decrease in measles vaccination coverage in some places.”
The pandemic has forced countries to make local innovations as they resume their vaccination programmes, all while accounting for transportation shutdowns, lack of PPE and social distancing, said Unicef’s Nandy. “In Brazil, they tried things like drive-through vaccines so people wouldn’t have to get out of their cars. In Tanzania, they were doing vaccinations under different trees to account for physical distancing,” he said.
“It’s a question of countries learning from one another, from both good and bad innovations, because it’s not like we have prototypes of guidance that we can roll out. We are building the ship as we sail.”
Full report in The Guardian