Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

COVID-19 pandemic leads to major backsliding on childhood vaccinations, new WHO, UNICEF data shows

October 11, 2021

In 2020, 23 million children missed out on normal childhood vaccinations, the highest level since 2009 and 3.7 million higher than in 2019

According to official data released today by WHO and UNICEF, 23 million children lost out on basic vaccinations through routine immunisation services in 2020, 3.7 million higher than in 2019. The majority of countries saw declines in childhood vaccination rates last year, according to the most recent set of comprehensive global childhood immunisation numbers, which are the first official figures to include global service disruptions due to COVID-19.

Worryingly, the majority of these children – up to 17 million – are unlikely to have received even a single vaccine during the year, exacerbating already significant gaps in vaccine access. The majority of these children live in conflict-affected areas, in underserved distant areas, or in informal or slum settings, where they confront a variety of challenges, including restricted access to essential health and social services.

“As countries scramble for COVID-19 vaccines, we’ve gone backwards on other vaccinations, putting children at danger of deadly but avoidable diseases like measles, polio, and meningitis,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Multiple disease outbreaks would be disastrous for communities and health systems currently dealing with COVID-19, making it more important than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and guarantee that every kid is vaccinated.”

In 2020, immunisation services were disrupted all around the world, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean Regions being the hardest hit. In all locations, when access to health facilities and immunisation outreach was limited, the number of children who did not receive even their first immunizations grew. 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTP-1) in 2018 than in 2019, and 3 million more children missed their first dose of measles vaccine. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global children vaccination rates for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and polio had been stuck at approximately 86 percent for several years. This rate falls far short of the WHO’s recommendation of 95% to guard against measles, which is generally the first disease to resurface when children are not vaccinated, and is insufficient to prevent other vaccine-preventable diseases.