Vaccine-preventable diseases spread worldwide as pandemic halts immunizations

As the world turned its attention to preventing the spread of the new coronavirus, many countries pressed pause on immunization programs and vaccine efforts, resulting in a spike of vaccine-preventable diseases and deaths, The New York Times reports.

In the last few months, diphtheria cases sprang up in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal; cholera was reported in South Sudan, Cameroon, Mozambique, Yemen and Bangladesh; and a mutated poliovirus strain has been found in more than 30 countries.

Twenty-nine countries have suspended measles vaccinations, and 18 of those countries are now reporting outbreaks of the disease.

Though cases of the new coronavirus are increasing worldwide, the World Health Organization and other international public health groups recommend that countries resume vaccinations.

"We will have countries trying to recover from COVID and then facing measles," said Dr. Robin Nandy, chief of immunization for UNICEF, told the Times. "It would stretch their health systems further and have serious economic and humanitarian consequences."

The challenges of restarting vaccine efforts are immense. Healthcare workers are consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, focusing their efforts on COVID-19 patients. There also has been a breakdown in vaccine delivery to poorer countries as flights that bring in vaccines have been suspended.

Thabani Maphosa, a managing director at Gavi, an international organization that partners with 73 countries to buy vaccines, told the Times that many countries do not think they will be able to afford their usual share of vaccine costs due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic.

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