Red Alert for Children’s Health: Historic Relapse in Global Immunization

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Over 25 million infants have missed out on life-saving vaccines as global childhood immunization has seen its biggest decline in about 30 years, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said, giving a child health red alert.

The percentage of children who received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) – a marker of immunization coverage within and between countries – fell five percentage points to 81 percent between 2019 and 2021, they said in one joint communication.

As a result, 25 million children missed one or more doses of DTP from routine immunization services in 2021 alone. That was two million more than those who missed out in 2020 and six million more than in 2019, the UN agencies said, highlighting the growing number of children at risk from preventable diseases.

reasons for the decline

“The decline was due to many factors, including an increased number of children living in conflict and fragile environments where access to vaccinations is often difficult, increased misinformation and Covid-19-related issues such as service and supply chain disruptions , resource diversion for response efforts, and containment measures that limited access and availability of immunization services,” they explained.

This historic relapse in vaccination rates comes against a backdrop of rapidly increasing rates of severe acute malnutrition.

“A malnourished child already has weakened immunity and missing vaccinations can mean that common childhood illnesses can quickly become fatal to them. The convergence of a hunger crisis with a growing immunization gap threatens to set the conditions for a child survival crisis,” the note warned.

“This is a red alert for children’s health. We are witnessing the largest sustained decline in child immunization in a generation. The consequences will be measured in terms of lives,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF.

“Whereas a pandemic hangover was expected last year due to disruption and lockdowns caused by Covid-19, we are now seeing a continued decline. Covid-19 is not an excuse. We need catch-ups for the missing millions, otherwise we will inevitably see more outbreaks, more sick children and greater pressure on already strained healthcare systems,” she added. Vaccination relapse

India is hardest hit

About 18 million of the 25 million children who did not receive a dose of DTP during the year were mostly from low- and middle-income countries, with India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines recording the highest numbers, they said.

First-dose measles coverage fell to 81 percent in 2021, also the lowest level since 2008. This meant 24.7 million children missed their first measles dose in 2021, 5.3 million more than in 2019. Another 14.7 Millions didn’t get their second dose.

Similarly, compared to 2019, 6.7 million more children missed the third dose of the polio vaccine and 3.5 million missed the first dose of the HPV vaccine – which protects girls from cervical cancer later in life, authorities pointed out.

It was hoped that 2021 would be a year of recovery to catch up on vaccinations missed in 2020.

Instead, DTP3 coverage has been rolled back to its lowest level since 2008, which, combined with falling coverage for other basic vaccines, has pushed the world away from its global goals, including SDG vaccination indicators, the agencies said, calling for the Governments to make a monumental effort to catch up on levels of universal coverage and prevent future pandemic outbreaks.

Published on

July 16, 2022

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