At least 80 million children under a year old could be at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as Covid-19 disrupts routine immunizations around the world, according to data released by global health experts on Friday.
Of the 129 countries reporting data to the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, 53% indicated that routine childhood immunization services were moderately to severely disrupted or were totally suspended from March to April of this year.
"Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director general, said in the report.
The reasons vaccine services have been disrupted varied. Some parents are reluctant to leave home because of restrictions on movement, lack of information or because they fear Covid-19 infection, according to the report.
Many health-care workers are unavailable because of restrictions on travel or because resources have been redeployed toward the coronavirus pandemic response. UNICEF reported that planned vaccine deliveries have been delayed because of global lockdown measures and the decline in commercial flights and the limited availability of charters.
Many countries have also suspended vaccination campaigns intended to prevent other diseases such as cholera, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever, due to risk of Covid-19 transmission, global health officials said in the report.
Mass vaccination campaigns for polio and measles have been hit the hardest, with measles campaigns suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns put on hold in 38 countries.
The findings from global health leaders comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its report on Monday that found routine vaccinations for children across the country have fallen for the first half of the year as families stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The CDC's report analyzed the vaccination status of babies and toddlers in Michigan between 1 and 24 months old and found that vaccinations, except hepatitis B, fell in all age groups. The agency warned that there could be a measles outbreak if widespread vaccinations don't resume.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that the number of administered vaccine doses has declined by 63% for all children in the city from a year ago. For children over age 2, the number of doses is down a "shocking" 91%, he said.
"This is essential work, getting your child vaccinated is essential work. Getting your child vaccinated is a reason to leave your home," de Blasio said.