WHO: Suspending vaccines during pandemic could lead to more outbreaks

The message comes in the lead-up to World Immunization Week, which takes place between April 24-30.

Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes  (photo credit: BIONDVAX)
Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes
(photo credit: BIONDVAX)
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that shutting immunization services down due to the coronavirus pandemic could lead to new outbreaks of diseases that would otherwise be easily prevented through vaccinations.
The message comes in the lead-up to World Immunization Week, which takes place between April 24-30.
Maintaining immunization services is essential in preventing new widespread outbreaks of easily preventable and highly contagious diseases.
In a statement, the WHO cited the 2019 measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that killed 6,000 people. This outbreak coincided with the a large outbreak of Ebola in the country, which highlights how important maintaining immunization services - as well as other essential health services - is to preventing further outrbeaks.
Likewise, while existing health systems around the world are struggling to keep up with COVID-19, further outbreaks due to a cessation in vaccinations could serve to completely overwhelm them.
“Disease outbreaks must not remain a threat when we have safe and effective vaccines to protect us,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.
“While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID-19 at record speed, we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate.”
The race to develop the first effective coronavirus vaccine has seen labs in the US, China, Germany and Israel working around the clock on possible vaccine candidates. However, even with the expedited process that many labs have, it is still unlikely that a vaccine could be ready any time soon. As such, it's essential for existing vaccines to be utilized to prevent any further outbreaks of other diseases.
This is especially concerning given that many people around the word are still not vaccinated.
According to WHO figures, vaccine rates have been increasing over the years. In 2018, 86% of children under five worldwide were vaccinated against measles, compared to 72% in 2000 and 20% in 1980.
However, global vaccination coverage is still far from the 95% of coverage needed to fully prevent outbreaks. In 2018, nearly 20 million children worldwide missed out on vaccines and, according to the WHO, approximately 13 million of those children have never received any vaccines at all.
One of the main concerns regarding possible future outbreaks is measles, especially if vaccination rates drop.
According to the WHO's new immunization guidelines, governments should pause some immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. However, the organization nonetheless urges that continuing the routine immunization of children is an essential service that must be prioritized, as should adult vaccinations such as the flu, hepatitis B and rabies vaccines for at-risk groups.