Emergency relief needed: COVID-related lockdowns have led to a 50% crash in immunization rates for polio and measles

Credit: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters
Credit: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

According to [the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization], immunization rates in some countries have fallen by as much as 50 per cent, with people unable to access health services because of lockdown and transport disruptions, or unwillingness due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

Polio and measles vaccination campaigns, designed to fill gaps in essential services, had to be paused to prevent possible infection of health workers and communities, while protection measures were put in place.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services, worldwide,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“But unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles.”

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UNICEF and WHO estimate that about $655 million are needed to address dangerous immunity gaps in middle-income countries, which are not eligible for Gavi assistance. Of that figure, $400 million are needed to support polio outbreak response over 2020-2021, and $255 million to prepare for, prevent and respond to measles outbreaks over the next three years.

Issuing an urgent call to action, the two UN agencies warned that if left unchecked, the situation posed an “increasingly high risk of explosive outbreaks and potentially further international spread of both polio and measles.”

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