Polio, Measles, Set To Surge As COVID-19 Overwhelms

The World Health Organization recommends that all preventive mass vaccination campaigns for diseases other than COVID-19 be postponed. (File photo, AP /John Leicester)

By Leslie Roberts

Apr 9, 2020 

Science Magazine – “A devil’s choice.” That’s how Seth Berkley, head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, describes the dilemma facing global health organizations in the past few weeks.

They could either continue to support mass vaccination campaigns in poor countries and risk inadvertently helping to spread COVID-19—or recommend their suspension, inevitably triggering an upsurge of many other infectious diseases.

In the end, they chose the latter. As Science reported last week, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on 24 March recommended suspending polio vaccination campaigns until the second half of the year.

Two days later, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) issued a broader call, recommending that all preventive mass vaccination campaigns for other diseases be postponed.

“Any mass campaigns would go against the idea of social distancing,” says Alejandro Cravioto of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s faculty of medicine, who chairs SAGE.

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But experts say the fallout from the wrenching decision will be huge and may last long after the pandemic subsides. It comes on top of the damage COVID-19 will do to the fragile health systems in many countries.

Mass vaccination campaigns against a host of diseases are already grinding to a halt in many countries. For many children, these campaigns are the only chance to get vaccines.

Some 13.5 million have already missed out on vaccinations for polio, measles, human papillomavirus, yellow fever, cholera, and meningitis since the suspensions began, Berkley says. “I tell you those numbers will be much larger than what we see today.”

In the case of polio, more children will be paralyzed in countries where polio is still circulating, and the virus will likely spread to countries that are now polio-free. The decision couldn’t come at a worse time … Read more.