Interruption of immunization services putting tens of millions of children at risk: WHO chief

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2020. (WHO/Handout via Xinhua)

GENEVA,   (Xinhua) — The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday warned that the COVID-19 outbreak undermines life-saving immunization services around the world, putting tens of millions of children at risk.

Speaking at a virtual press conference from Geneva, the WHO chief said that as the world comes together to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, countries must not forget the dozens of lifesaving vaccines that already exist and must continue to reach children everywhere.

“Initial analysis suggests the provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries,” he said.

A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar on Feb. 18, 2020. (Photo by Saeed Ahmad/Xinhua)

“Any suspension of childhood vaccination services is a major threat to life,” the WHO chief added.

He stressed that maintaining people’s trust in the ability of health systems to provide essential services safely is crucial to ensuring people continue to seek care when needed and follow public health advice.

According to him, the WHO will soon publish new guidance on implementing mass vaccination campaigns in the context of COVID-19.

“Since the turn of the century, child mortality has been halved in large part because of the power of safe and effective vaccination,” he said, adding that the WHO is working with governments around the world to ensure supply chains remain open and lifesaving health services are reaching all communities.