KATHMANDU, JULY 20
Around 23 million children missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunisation services in 2020 - 3.7 million more than in 2019 - according to official data published today by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.
This latest set of comprehensive worldwide childhood immunisation figures, the first official figures to reflect global service disruptions due to COVID-19, show that a majority of countries last year experienced drops in childhood vaccination rates.
Concerningly, most of these - up to 17 million children - likely did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening the already immense inequities in vaccine access. Most of these children live in communities affected by conflict, in under-served remote places, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations including limited access to basic health and key social services.
"Even as countries clamour to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccines, we have gone backwards on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk of devastating but preventable diseases such as measles, polio or meningitis," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.
"Multiple disease outbreaks would be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling COVID-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and ensure every child is reached."
Disruptions in immunisation services were widespread in 2020, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean regions most affected. As access to health services and immunisation outreach were curtailed, the number of children not receiving even their very first vaccinations increased in all regions. Compared to 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP-1) while three million more children missed their first measles dose.
"This evidence should be a clear warning - the COV- ID-19 pandemic and related disruptions cost us valuable ground we cannot afford to lose - and the consequences will be paid in the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.
Data shows that middle-income countries now account for an increasing share of unprotected children, that is, children missing out on at least some vaccine doses. India is experiencing a particularly large drop, with DTP-3 coverage falling from 91 per cent to 85 per cent. Fuelled by funding shortfalls, vaccine misinformation, instability and other factors, a troubling picture is also emerging in WHO's Region of the Americas, where vaccination coverage continues to fall. Just 82 per cent of children are fully vaccinated with DTP, down from 91 per cent in 2016.
With many resources and personnel diverted to support the COVID-19 response, there have been significant disruptions to immunisation service provision in many parts of the world. In some countries, clinics have been closed or hours reduced, while people may have been reluctant to seek healthcare because of fear of transmission or have experienced challenges reaching services due to lockdown measures and transportation disruptions.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 21 2021, of The Himalayan Times.