Could COVID-19 lead to measles and polio epidemics?

Could COVID-19 lead to measles and polio epidemics?

UNICEF and the World Health Organization are calling for emergency action to avoid potential measles and polio epidemics as COVID-19 disrupts normal immunisation programmes.

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting immunisations across the globe, and both UNICEF and the WHO are now calling for emergency action in order to protect the most vulnerable children from these deadly and preventable childhood diseases.

The organisations issued the urgent call to action, estimating that $655m (€551.66m) –  $400m for polio and $255m for measles – will be needed to address dangerous immunity gaps in non-Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) eligible countries and target age groups.

Protecting the most vulnerable

In recent years, there has been a global resurgence of measles with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world, with measles at its highest number for two decades in 2019. Protection against measles and polio through vaccine programmes has been majorly disrupted during this year’s unprecedented health pandemic.

At the same time, poliovirus transmission is expected to increase In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and many under-immunised areas of Africa,  and failure to halt the spread would lead to a global resurgence of the disease, resulting in as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunisation services, worldwide,  but unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles. What we need are the resources and commitments to put these tools and knowledge into action. If we do that, children’s lives will be saved.”

A next-generation, novel oral polio vaccine and the forthcoming Measles Outbreak Strategic Response Plan are expected to be deployed over the coming months to help tackle these growing threats in a more effective and sustainable manner, and ultimately save lives.

“We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic is critical. However, other deadly diseases also threaten the lives of millions of children in some of the poorest areas of the world. That is why today we are urgently calling for global action from country leaders, donors, and partners. We need additional financial resources to safely resume vaccination campaigns and prioritise immunisation systems that are critical to protect children and avert other epidemics besides COVID-19.”

Subscribe to our newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here