UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said Friday that 80 million children under the age of 1 in 68 nations are endangered as the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped immunizations, and she warned that the world cannot swap “one deadly outbreak for another”.
The head of the UN children’s agency spoke at a weekly COVID-19 press conference following World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
He also warned that one of the most essential health services disrupted by the virus is routine childhood immunization.
“WHO and UNICEF have been working closely from the start of this outbreak to ensure essential supplies are reaching health workers, patients and children across the world,” said Tedros.
Fore added: “80 million children under the age of 1 are at risk because routine immunization services for young children have been substantially disrupted in 68 countries.”
Speaking from New York at the video press conference hosted in Geneva, she said: “Vaccination campaigns which seek to vaccinate large parts of the population in a short period of time, have also been badly hit, especially for measles and polio.
“Measles candidates have been suspended in 27 countries, and the polio vaccination has been put on hold in 38 countries. The consequences for children can be deadly,” she noted.
The UNICEF head stressed there are many valid reasons why immunization efforts have been impacted as countries have had to suspend campaigns due to the need to maintain physical distancing.
Still, she said: “We cannot exchange one deadly outbreak for another. We cannot afford to lose decades of health gains.”
At the same press conference, Seth Berkley, the CEO of GAVI the vaccine alliance said: “This is really alarming data that we’re announcing today.”
He said it was “putting numbers on the fact that we’ve been grappling with for months now the scale of the impact of COVID-19 as having on global immunization programs is something we haven’t seen really in a lifetime.”
Earlier in the day, Tedros said at the WHO executive board meeting: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has worked day and night to coordinate the global response at all three levels of the organization, providing technical advice, catalyzing political solidarity, mobilizing resources, coordinating logistics, and much more.
“We have developed risk communications tools for parents and children, health workers, employers, faith-based organizations, and more.”
At the same executive committee meeting, Brett P. Giroir, the US Assistant Secretary for Health, said in a written statement: “We applaud the call for an impartial, independent, and comprehensive review, to be undertaken in consultation with the Member States, and urge that work begin now.”
His comments came after all member states on May 19 agreed to an investigation into the WHO’s response to COVID-19 after US President Donald Trump threatened to leave the world health body and permanently withdraw funding.
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