The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are sounding the alarm as new data shows that global vaccination coverage continued to fall in 2021, 25 million infants who have not received the vaccines that could have saved their lives. According to the UN, this is the largest sustained drop in childhood vaccinations in about 30 years.
The Covid-19 crisis and misinformation are behind the largest continuous decline in childhood vaccination against other diseases in almost three decades, according to a report by WHO and UNICEF. “This is a red alert for children’s health. We are seeing the largest sustained decline in childhood immunizations in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.
This historic decline in vaccination rates comes against a backdrop of rapidly rising rates of severe acute malnutrition, according to the WHO. “We need to catch up with the millions of missing vaccines or we will inevitably see new outbreaks, more sick children and increased pressure on already strained health systems,” Ms Russel added.
“While a pandemic hangover was expected last year following the disruptions and lockdowns linked to the coronavirus, what we are seeing now is a continuous decline”, insisted the UN, recalling that the Covid -19 should no longer be “an excuse”.
More generally, the proportion of children having received the three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and poliomyelitis (DTP3) fell from 86% in 2019 to only 81% in 2021. This vaccine is used as a key indicator of vaccination coverage around the world.
This decline recorded in 2020 and 2021 follows a decade of improvements. But overall, immunization coverage has fallen in all regions, with the East Asia and Pacific regions seeing the most dramatic reversal in DTP3 coverage, with a nine percentage point drop. in just two years.
As a result, 25 million children missed one or more doses of DTP as part of routine immunization services in 2021 alone. This is 2 million more than in 2020, and 6 million more than in 2019. This underlines the growing number of children exposed to devastating but preventable diseases.
Of those 25 million, 18 million received no dose, the majority of them in developing countries – including India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Among the countries with the largest relative increases in the number of children who did not receive a single dose of the vaccine between 2019 and 2021 are Myanmar and Mozambique.