Nearly 100m babies at risk of measles and polio due to cancelled vaccination services

At least 80 million babies are at risk of deadly infectious diseases because of disruption to life-saving vaccinations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Routine immunisation has been hit in at least 68 countries – both rich and poor – meaning that millions of babies are at risk of diseases such as measles, polio and diphtheria, analysis by the World Health Organization, Unicef and Gavi has shown. 

Measles and polio immunisation campaigns have been particularly badly hit, with measles campaigns suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns in 38.

And 24 million people in 21 countries supported by Gavi, which provides vaccines to the poorest nations in the world, are at risk of missing out on vaccinations against a range of diseases including, polio, measles, cholera and HIV.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, called for governments to keep essential services running. 

“As the world comes together to create a lifesaving vaccine for Covid-19, we must not forget those that already exist. “As well as fighting Covid-19, governments also need to ensure that central services are maintained,” he said.

This is the latest data to show the havoc coronavirus is wreaking on health systems around the world, with a report by the UN earlier this week warning that humanity is set to go into reverse because of the pandemic’s “triple hit” on education, income and health.

The reasons for disruption to immunisation services vary. Some parents are reluctant to leave home because of restrictions on movement or because of fears of picking up the virus. In other cases health services are closed or health workers have been deployed to other duties. 

Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, added that the “alarming” data represents an increase in the number of children at risk that “hasn’t been seen really in a lifetime”.  

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