Experts warn of a “child health crisis” as new research reveals one of the biggest sustained twists ever in global vaccination coverage.
Tens of millions of children are vulnerable to preventable diseases as immunization rates continue to fall since Covid-19, according to UN figures.
About 25 million children are at risk of getting diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio, 6 million more than in 2019 and the highest number since 2008, according to estimates from the World Health Organization and Unicef, the UN agency for children, published on Friday.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of children who did not receive any vaccines by 2021 lived in 10 countries, all low- or lower-middle-income countries except Brazil.
Niklas Danielson, senior immunization specialist at Unicef, said the situation was “extremely serious” and exacerbated by drought and rising malnutrition. “I see this as a child health crisis,” he said.
Nearly 25 million children missed their first measles shot in 2021, 5.3 million more than in 2019. A further 14.7 million did not receive the required second dose. And 3.5 million more children missed the first dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer later in life, last year compared to 2019.
Inadequate immunization coverage has already led to deaths and resulted in unavoidable outbreaks of measles and polio within the last 12 months, UN agencies said.
Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said 2021 had not been a year of “recovery” but of “further setbacks” for immunization programs following the shutdowns in place around the world by 2020. .
She said, “When [vaccinations] not given, there are tens of thousands of children and adolescents, as well as pregnant women and adults who do not receive vaccines… and there are people who suffer from serious health consequences. People have lost their lives as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases. “
There were lifelong consequences for those recovering from some illnesses, she added. Children who get measles are more susceptible to other diseases, including pneumonia, for up to a year after. Meningitis can cause deafness, blindness and can have long-term neurological consequences.
The reasons behind the decline in vaccine coverage include an increase in the number of displaced persons, making it difficult to implement immunization services.
Misinformation on the Internet and conspiracy theories about vaccines also contributed, researchers said, as well as the enormous strain health services have been under since the Covid pandemic.
Jennifer Requejo, global health data officer at Unicef, said: “The relapse is alarming.”
In Africa, she said: “There is a risk of famine in countries like Ethiopia, food insecurity levels are rising due to the war in Ukraine, and also with Covid there are service disruptions as well as economic challenges that many countries face. These are worrying trends together. . “