We have come a long way in preventing many diseases such as polio, measles, diphtheria, cholera, tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever, etc. Vaccine for all these diseases is readily available in hospitals and children are given it at the time of the birth or during their childhood. But since the advent of COVID-19 and prevalent lockdown, these vaccine-preventable diseases have seen a disruption. Recently WHO highlighted this issue and called for a joint effort of WHO, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to safely deliver routine immunization and proceed with vaccination campaigns against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Since March 2020, routine immunization services and vaccination campaigns are being hindered on a global scale and are likely to affect approximately 80 million children. Many countries have momentarily and reasonably stopped preventive mass vaccination campaigns against diseases such as cholera, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus, typhoid, and yellow fever, due to transmission risk and the need to maintain physical distance during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, efforts to vaccinate measles and polio have been badly affected, with measles efforts suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns put on hold in 38 countries.
Of the 129 countries in which data were available, more than half (53 percent) reported moderate to severe disruptions, or total suspension of vaccination services during March-April 2020. The main reason for disruption in vaccine-preventable diseases are: Some parents are hesitant to leave home due to travel restrictions, lack of knowledge, or fear of infection with the COVID-19 virus. And other health staff are inaccessible due to travel limits, or reallocation to COVID sensitive assignments, and lack of protective equipment. Vaccine transportation delays worsen the problem. UNICEF confirmed a major delay in scheduled vaccine deliveries due to the lockdown measures and the consequent reduction in commercial flights and reduced charter availability.
In India, this issue can turn into a global threat because an estimated 20-22 lakh children across the country under one age are targeted every month for vaccination under national programs which, according to official sources, translates into around 260 lakh children per year. According to sources, when the lockout was declared, states such as UP and Bihar, which make up nearly 30% of the national birth cohort (under one year), had stopped vaccination programs including sessions conducted in villages, while states such as Odisha, Rajasthan, Kerala, and Delhi had also paused for a few days.
These tremendous disruptions in vaccine-preventable diseases are now under pressure because of COVID-19, which threatens the return of diseases such as measles and polio. Not only will the maintenance of immunization programs prevent further outbreaks, but it will also ensure that we have the infrastructure that we need to deploy a possible COVID-19 vaccine globally. Given the struggles, different efforts are being made by several countries to continue the vaccination.