Newborn babies in India are seeing their childhood vaccination schedules delayed thanks to impacts from climate change, resulting in spikes of preventable diseases such as measles.
Severe weather, such as flooding, can bar expectant people from accessing prenatal vitamins and other critical care before their child is born, and prevent healthcare workers from reaching babies to administer vaccines on the prescribed schedule.
Low birthweight, exacerbated by climate impacts and pollution, and challenges in breastfeeding from stress due to heat and dehydration can also force a delay in vaccination.
In flood-prone Maharashtra, in southwest India, measles spiked eightfold from 2021 to 2022, accounting for more than a fifth of the country’s measles cases. According to India’s National Family Health Survey, less than a third of children aged 2 to 3 years old had received their second measles vaccination in the period from 2019 to 2021. In 2020, about two-thirds of India’s children aged 6 months to 5 years were anemic, and a third underweight.
Nor is the problem unique to India: The World Health Organization reported that in 2021, 25 million children under 1 year old were not vaccinated according to recommendations.
“I’ve been vaccinating children for over a decade, but things never got this difficult,” healthcare worker Kavita Magdum told Toward Freedom. “We took vaccines to the last mile. Now, climate change is eroding progress.”