The COVID-19 pandemic suspended immunization efforts, leaving children, especially in high-risk areas, more vulnerable to killer diseases like polio, measles, and pneumonia, the World Health Organization chief said Friday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus spoke to journalists from his home during a bi-weekly press webinar as he remains in quarantine after making contact with a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but he also noted that he has no virus symptoms.

Tedros spoke as the WHO and UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, jointly launched an emergency appeal to rapidly boost measles and polio vaccination.

“While the world watches intently as scientists work to ensure safe and effective vaccines are developed for COVID-19, it is important to ensure that all children receive the life-saving vaccines that are already available,” said the WHO chief.

“In the summer, Africa was certified as wild polio-free. This marked one of the greatest public health achievements of all time,” said Tedros.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the momentum as immunization efforts were suspended.

Children, especially in high-risk areas, were left more vulnerable to killer diseases like polio, measles, and pneumonia.

“And now we’re starting to see outbreaks of these diseases. We need to turn the tide quickly and ensure no child is left behind,” Tedros noted.

The WHO estimates that $655 million is needed to address dangerous immunization gaps in children in countries that are not part of the global vaccine alliance Gavi, he added.

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