WHO warns vs disrupting immunization during COVID-19 pandemic

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2020 12:51 PM

Marikina residents have their children vaccinated in a program of the city government on September 23, 2019 amid the reemergence of polio in the country after almost 2 decades being declared polio-free by the World Health Organization. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday urged countries to continue immunization programs, warning that suspending vaccination could give rise to other health crises as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

A WHO official cited the reemergence of polio in the Philippines, which was also hit by an outbreak of measles, and Malaysia and China, noting that infectious diseases would return if vaccination rates dropped.

During the pandemic, countries should still conduct vaccination in areas “where it’s feasible and with appropriate infection control,” Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, said in an online press conference.

“If we allow COVID-19 to disrupt immunization programs, our region could face a new crisis at a time when health systems are already strained,” he said.

Last year, polio resurfaced in the Philippines after 19 years, while more than 11,000 people was hit with measles due to a drop in immunization. 

Health officials cited fears triggered by the controversy over the anti-dengue vaccine “Dengvaxia,” which was blamed for a number of deaths.

Kasai said countries should make sure that access to treatment for other diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer are not be interrupted during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“We cannot let the COVID0-19 response to put (people’s) lives at risk by compromising these services,” he said.