Disruptions to immunization programs caused by COVID-19 putting millions of children at risk, UN warns

Millions of children whose immunizations have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Africa, are now at risk from life-threatening diseases such as measles, polio, yellow fever and diphtheria, United Nations (U.N.) health agencies warned on Monday.

Gaps in vaccination coverage have already led to serious measles outbreaks in Pakistan and Yemen, the agencies said, and are likely to lead to more epidemics as more regular childhood vaccinations are missed.

Compared to 2020, some progress has been made in restoring routine vaccinations disrupted by the pandemic, but more than a third of the 135 countries that responded to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey said they were still experiencing difficulties.

“Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight against preventable child illness, with 20 million children already missing out on critical vaccinations,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF, said in a joint statement with the WHO and the GAVI vaccines alliance.

She said the pandemic had “made a bad situation worse.”

The WHO survey found that at least 60 mass immunization campaigns in 50 countries were currently on hold, putting around 228 million people, mostly children, at risk from preventable serious diseases. More than half the affected countries are in Africa.

Immunization programs against measles — one of the world’s most contagious diseases — account for 23 of the postponed campaigns, affecting around 140 million people.

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