n a statement released yesterday, the World Health Organization says, according to preliminary data for the first four months of 2020, there has been a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3). Diphtheria was once a major cause of illness and death among children. The United States recorded 206000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15 520 deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diphtheria rates started dropping quickly in the 1920s in the United States and other countries that began widely vaccinating. Since 2010, three cases of diphtheria in the Unites States were reported to the CDC. However, in 2018, countries reported more than 16600 cases to the World Health Organization, but many more cases are likely go unreported.
In 2018, South Africa saw a sharp increase in pertussis cases, better known as whooping cough – 43% of the cases reported in 2018 were in babies three months and younger.
Covid-19 to blame
In their statement the WHO and UNICEF warn of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines such as the measles and DTP3 vaccine around the world. They say this is due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
30 measles vaccination campaigns at risk of being cancelled
According to a UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey, conducted in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, three-quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunisation programmes as of May 2020.
If vaccination campaigns get cancelled this could risk further outbreaks of measles and other diseases in 2020 and beyond, they warn.