In 2021, childhood immunizations suffered the biggest sustained decline in about 30 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF warned on Friday.
Specifically, according to their data, the percentage of children who received three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine fell by 5 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, to 81%.
As a result, 25 million children missed one or more doses of DTP in 2021. This is 2 million more than in 2020 and 6 million more than in 2019.
According to the WHO and UNICEF, the decline is due to many factors, such as the increase in the number of children living in fragile and conflict contexts, where access to vaccines “is often a challenge”; increase in misinformation and issues related to COVID-19, such as service and supply chain disruptions, diversion of resources to response efforts, and containment measures that limit access and availability immunization services
“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. Although a hangover from the pandemic was expected last year due to disruptions and COVID-19, what we are seeing now is a continued decline. COVID-19 is no excuse. We need to catch up on vaccinations for the millions of people who lack, otherwise we will inevitably see more epidemics, more sick children, etc. strain on health systems, which are already under strain,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
As many as 18 million of the 25 million children did not receive a single dose of DTP in 2021, the vast majority of whom live in low- and middle-income countries, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, l Ethiopia and the Philippines reporting the highest rates. The figures. Among the countries with the largest relative increases in the number of children who did not receive any vaccine between 2019 and 2021 are Myanmar and Mozambique.
Globally, more than a quarter of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine coverage achieved in 2019 has been lost. 15%, despite the fact that the first vaccines were authorized more than 15 years ago.
WHO and UNICEF had hoped that 2021 would be a catch-up year in which immunization programs would be rebuilt and the cohort of children lost in 2020 would recover. Instead, DTP coverage fell to its lowest level since 2008, which, combined with declining coverage of other core vaccines, has moved the world further away from achieving global targets, including the immunization indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals.
“This historic decline in vaccination rates comes against a backdrop of rapidly rising rates of severe acute malnutrition. A malnourished child already has weakened immunity and a lack of vaccination can mean that common childhood illnesses can quickly become deadly for a child. him. The convergence of a hunger crisis with a growing immunization deficit threatens to create the conditions for a child survival crisis.”
Immunization coverage has declined in all regions, with East Asia and the Pacific registering the largest decline in DTP3 coverage, with a decline of nine percentage points in just two years.
“Planning for and responding to COVID-19 must go hand in hand with vaccination against deadly diseases such as measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea. It’s not about one or the other, it’s You can do both,” he said. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The organizations are nevertheless pleased that some countries have successfully continued vaccination. For example, they explain that Uganda has maintained high levels of coverage in routine vaccination programs, while implementing a targeted vaccination program against COVID-19 to protect priority populations, including health workers. health.
Similarly, Pakistan has returned to pre-pandemic coverage levels “thanks to high-level government commitment and significant catch-up efforts in immunization.” “Achieving this in the midst of a pandemic, when health systems and health workers were under great pressure, should be applauded,” they said.
However, they assure that “monumental efforts will be needed to reach universal coverage levels and prevent epidemics”. In this sense, they recall that inadequate coverage levels have already caused “preventable” epidemics of measles and poliomyelitis in the last 12 months.
The report shows first-dose measles coverage fell to 81% in 2021, also the lowest level since 2008. This means that 24.7 million children did not receive their first dose of measles in 2021, i.e. 5.3 million more than in 2019.
Another 14.7 million did not receive their required second dose. Similarly, compared to 2019, 6.7 million more boys did not receive the third dose of the polio vaccine and 3.5 million did not receive the first dose of the HPV vaccine, which protects later girls against cervical cancer.
“It is heartbreaking to see more children losing their protection against preventable diseases for the second consecutive year. The priority for the Alliance must be to help countries maintain, restore and strengthen routine immunization alongside the implementation implementing ambitious COVID vaccination plans.” only through vaccines, but also structural support tailored to the health systems that will deliver them,” said CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Seth Berkley.