Cases of vaccine-preventable diseases are surging in countries that have stopped or drastically down-sized inoculation programs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Immunologists have worried that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and people’s reaction to it could cause a resurgence in diseases that have all but been eliminated through a decades-long global inoculation effort. Now, after governments scaled back routine treatments to save room in hospitals and medical facilities for coronavirus patients and people fearful of waiting in crowded rooms for vaccines elected to skip preventative doctor visits, diseases such as diphtheria, cholera, and measles are making a comeback in some parts of the world, according to The New York Times.
A type of the poliovirus has popped up in over 30 countries. Nearly 20 countries are reporting outbreaks of the measles. Bangladesh, Cameroon, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Yemen are all reporting outbreaks of cholera while Pakistan and Nepal are recording cases of diphtheria; Bangladesh is reporting outbreaks of both.
For months, doctors and experts in the United States have worried that state shutdowns and fear of contracting COVID-19 would suppress immunization to the point that diseases almost entirely eradicated would make a comeback.
“The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake,” Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases, told the Times in April.
On May 22, the World Health Organization began warning that a precipitous drop in global immunizations placed roughly 80 million children at risk for contracting a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine.
“Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.”
In early May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study finding a steep drop-off of vaccinations beginning around 10 days after the United States declared a national emergency over the coronavirus on May 13.
Global aid organizations such as UNICEF are now gearing up to fight a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases that may overwhelm healthcare systems, similar to the threat posed by the coronavirus.
“We will have countries trying to recover from COVID and then facing measles. It would stretch their health systems further and have serious economic and humanitarian consequences,” UNICEF immunization chief Dr. Robin Nandy told the Times.
Medical professionals are also worried that disease outbreaks in one part of the world may quickly spread to other countries where such diseases were thought to be eliminated.
“It keeps me up at night,” CDC global immunization adviser Dr. Stephen L. Cochi told the Times. “These vaccine-preventable diseases are just one plane ride away.”
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