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The coronavirus isn’t the only disease we have to worry about now

Published Jun 15th, 2020 10:52AM EDT
pandemic vaccines
Image: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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  • Efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have made it easier for other diseases to spread.
  • In places like the Congo, where vaccine rollout efforts were cut off due to the pandemic, diseases like measles can now spread unchecked.
  • Vaccine rates are even falling in places like the United States, with some states reporting dramatically lowered immunizations.

The world has been focusing on the coronavirus pandemic for months now. It’s the first global pandemic any of us have dealt with, so it makes sense that virtually every public health agency and government is doing what it can to curb the spread. Unfortunately, it seems that the singular focus on COVID-19 is now allowing other diseases a chance to boom.

As the New York Times reports, countries where diseases like ebola are still a major problem have had to roll back their campaigns to combat those illnesses in order to focus their attention on the novel coronavirus. Decades of progress in combating vaccine-preventable diseases is now at risk of a dramatic reversal in places like Central Africa and parts of South America as well as the Middle East.

The Congo is a perfect example of how the coronavirus messed things up in a very short period of time. As the report states, the Congo was poised to roll out a massive vaccination campaign to combat measles, ebola, tuberculosis, and cholera. Two years ago, the country began readying a mass immunization program that was to kick off in early 2020.

Just as everything was seemingly coming together — with vaccines ready to save the lives of countless children — the coronavirus pandemic exploded. Health officials had a tough decision on their hands: Either allow the vaccination programs to continue, meaning large crowds gathering to receive vaccines, or call it off in order to prevent the coronavirus from quickly spreading from person-to-person in those same crowded areas.

Ultimately, the country made the tough decision to allow the immunization program to roll out, but only in regions where no confirmed coronavirus cases were present. At the same time, however, international flights that carried the vital vaccination supplies into the country were cut off due to the pandemic. The infrastructure to support the distribution of the vaccines broke down, preventing untold numbers of children from receiving the protective shots.

The problem is dire in these developing nations, but it’s also present in places like the United States. Vaccine rates have dropped significantly, as childbirth in the age of the coronavirus pandemic is now significantly more complicated for doctors, staff, and expecting mothers.

Despite the gradual loosening of restrictions in some US states, hospitals and clinics are still treating the pandemic as the major threat that it is. Most are still abiding by lockdown procedures, taking temperatures at the door, and issuing masks to anyone who walks in. These measures can help prevent hospitals from becoming pandemic hot spots, but the lower rate of vaccinations will continue to be a problem in the future.