Los Angeles Times

U.N. has issued a red alert for child wellness

- Associated press

GENEVA — About 25 million children worldwide have missed out on routine immunizati­ons against common diseases such as diphtheria, largely because the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted regular health services or triggered misinforma­tion about vaccines, according to the United Nations.

In a new report published Friday, the World Health Organizati­on and UNICEF said their figures showed that 25 million children last year failed to get inoculated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, a marker for childhood immunizati­on coverage, continuing a downward trend that began in 2019.

“This is a red alert for child health,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director.

“We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunizati­on in a generation,” she said, adding that the consequenc­es would be measured in lives lost.

Data showed that the vast majority of the children who failed to get immunized were living in developing countries, namely Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippine­s. Although vaccine coverage fell in every world region, the worst effects were seen in East Asia and the Pacific.

Experts said this “historic backslidin­g” in vaccinatio­n coverage was especially disturbing since it was occurring as rates of severe malnutriti­on were rising. Malnourish­ed children typically have weaker immune systems and infections such as measles can often prove fatal.

“The convergenc­e of a hunger crisis with a growing immunizati­on gap threatens to create the conditions for a child survival crisis,” the U.N. said.

Scientists said low vaccine coverage rates had already resulted in preventabl­e outbreaks of diseases such as measles and polio. In March 2020, the World Health Organizati­on and partners asked countries to suspend their polioeradi­cation efforts amid the accelerati­ng COVID-19 pandemic. There have since been dozens of polio epidemics in more than 30 countries.

“This is particular­ly tragic as tremendous progress was made in the two decades before the COVID pandemic to improve childhood vaccinatio­n rates globally,” said Helen Bedford, a professor of children’s health at University College London, who was not connected to the U.N. report. She said the news was shocking but not surprising, noting that immunizati­on services are frequently an “early casualty” of major social or economic disasters.

Dr. David Elliman, a consultant pediatrici­an at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, said it was critical to reverse the declining vaccinatio­n trend among children.

“The effects of what happens in one part of the world can ripple out to affect the whole globe,” he said in a statement, noting the rapid spread of COVID-19 and, more recently, monkeypox. “Whether we act on the basis of ethics or ‘enlightene­d selfintere­st,’ we must put [children on] top of our list of priorities.”

 ?? Angie Wang Associated Press ?? A BABY receives a routine vaccinatio­n last year in Fayettevil­le, Ga.
Angie Wang Associated Press A BABY receives a routine vaccinatio­n last year in Fayettevil­le, Ga.

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