Bryan Ceronie is a medical doctor in the UK.
We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched across the world in a matter of months, affecting virtually everyone.
But just because we’re in a pandemic does not mean the risk of other diseases goes away. In fact, there is a real risk of routine immunizations being sidelined in favor of resource reallocation for the pandemic.
Vaccinations are one of the single most important public health interventions in protecting the health and welfare of the country’s population. Their suspension or delay could have damaging long-term consequences for public health.
What a secondary outbreak would mean
As a doctor in the UK, I’ve been redeployed from my normal day job in geriatric medicine to a cardiorespiratory “super firm” where we see many patients with cardiac conditions and chest infections, which we suspected could be COVID-19.
If there were a secondary outbreak of a preventable disease on top of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK, it would be extremely challenging for the NHS, with resources already stretched thin. Throughout my career I have frequently treated patients with pneumonias, meningitis, and influenza, many of which can be vaccinated against.
The most common serious infections that I’ve seen are those caused by pneumococcus and influenza, both of which we are lucky to have widely available vaccinations for.
During my training, I spent some time at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa. The threat of secondary outbreaks in countries with weaker healthcare systems is all the more daunting and could quickly overwhelm the system.
Why we need a strong global commitment to vaccinations
In the midst of a crisis it is important that we don’t lose sight of the value of preventative medicine and simple interventions like vaccinations to protect our future health.
Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, there are still millions of children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need. With the outbreak of COVID-19, millions of routine vaccinations have been paused.
Routine immunization against other deadly diseases must continue. We cannot have two global outbreaks on our hands.
Beyond the threat of a secondary outbreak, the nature of the global pandemic means that only a unified, global effort will successfully curb the spread. Mixed messages from different governments, emerging too early from lockdowns, and unequal access to resources such as drugs, PPE, and important medical equipment such as ventilators will not help the world emerge from this pandemic. We need a global initiative to ensure resources are deployed to the countries with the greatest needs.