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The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in stay-at-home orders that are putting young children at risk of contracting measles, polio and diphtheria, according to a report released Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Routine childhood immunizations in at least 68 countries have been put on hold due to the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 worldwide, making children under the age of one more vulnerable.
More than half of 129 counties, where immunization data was readily available, reported moderate, severe or total suspensions of vaccinations during March and April.
“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”
The WHO has reported the reasons for reduced immunization rates vary. Some parents are afraid to leave the house due to travel restrictions relating to the coronavirus, whereas a lack of information regarding the importance of immunization remains a problem in some places.
Health workers are also less available because of COVID-19 restrictions.
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Experts are worried that worldwide immunization rates, which have progressed since the 1970s, are now being threatened.
“More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history,” said Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley. “Due to COVID-19 this immense progress is now under threat.”
UNICEF has also reported a delay in vaccine deliveries because of coronavirus restrictions and is now “appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines.”
Experts say that children need to receive their vaccines by the age of 2.
And in the case of polio, 90 percent of the population need to be immunized in order to wipe out the disease.
Polio is already making a comeback in some parts of the world, with more than a dozen African countries reporting polio outbreaks this year.
“We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera," she said. "While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.