Polio and measles could surge
The widespread interruption of routine immunization programs around the world during the coronavirus pandemic is putting 80 million children under 1 year old at risk of contracting deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases, according to a report by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The groups surveyed 129 poor and middle-income countries and found that 68 had some degree of disruption of vaccine services through clinics and through large inoculation campaigns.
- Measles initiatives, for example, have been suspended in 27 countries, including Chad and Ethiopia, and polio programs are on hold in 38, including Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Many public health experts say they are worried that deaths from diseases including cholera, rotavirus and diphtheria could far outstrip those from Covid-19 itself.
- The report highlighted warnings about polio, which had recently been all but eradicated, a hard-won victory that resulted from mass immunization programs that reached millions of children.
- Restarting immunization programs is crucial not just for preventing more outbreaks of life-threatening diseases: It will also ensure we have the infrastructure we need to roll out an eventual Covid-19 vaccine on a global scale.
- The problem of slipping vaccine rates is not limited to developing countries. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that coverage rates among Michigan infants had dropped below 50 percent for all childhood immunizations.
- New York City announced that during a six-week period of pandemic lockdown, the number of vaccine doses administered to children dropped 63 percent, compared with the same period last year.
- According to health ministers and medical providers in the countries surveyed, there are a number of reasons for the disruptions.
- In late March, up to 80 percent of flights to Africa that deliver vaccines and syringes were canceled. The health care workers who administer vaccines have been afraid to proceed with the supplies they have on hand, because they lack sufficient protective gear. Parents have been afraid to take children to health clinics.
- Many areas are in lockdown altogether. And thousands of health care workers who might otherwise be engaged in vaccination are being diverted to respond to Covid-19.
- Because of the pandemic, Nigeria, which had been well on track to be certified as free of wild polio virus, had to cancel two polio vaccine campaigns in targeted areas that would have otherwise immunized a total of 37.6 million children.
- Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. Before the introduction of measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.
- Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air.
- The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.
- The certification of polio eradication is conducted by WHO regions. The SEAR (South East Asia Region) countries were declared Polio-Free in 2014, three years after the last case of wild poliovirus infection, detected in the West Bengal India.
- Since then no wild poliovirus cases have been detected in India and the country is no longer a high focus or polio-endemic country as per the GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) of WHO.