“Red alert for children’s health”: 25 million children worldwide did not receive routine vaccinations due to COVID, says UN

Around 25 million children worldwide have missed out on routine vaccinations against common diseases such as diphtheria, mainly due to coronavirus pandemic disrupted general health services or triggered misinformation about vaccines, according to the UN

In a new report published on Friday, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said their figures show that 25 million children last year failed to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, a marker of childhood vaccination coverage, and continue a downward trend that began in 2019 .

“This is a red warning for children’s health,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

“We are witnessing the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccination in a generation,” she said, adding that the consequences would be measured in lost lives.

Data showed that the vast majority of children who were not vaccinated lived in developing countries, namely Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines. While vaccine coverage fell in all regions of the world, the worst effects were seen in East Asia and the Pacific.

Experts said this “historic setback” in vaccination coverage was particularly worrying as it occurred as the number of severe malnutrition increased. Malnourished children typically have a weaker immune system, and infections such as measles can often prove fatal to them.

“The convergence of a hunger crisis with a growing immunization gap threatens to create the conditions for a child survival crisis,” the UN said.

Researchers said low vaccine coverage rates had already resulted in preventable outbreaks of diseases such as measles and polio. In March 2020, the WHO and partners called on countries to suspend their efforts to eradicate polio in the midst of the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic. There have since been dozens of polio epidemics in more than 30 countries.

“This is particularly tragic as huge progress was made in the two decades before the COVID pandemic to improve the rate of childhood vaccination globally,” said Helen Bedford, professor of pediatric health at University College London, who was not linked to the UN report. She said the news was shocking, but not surprising, noting that immunization services are often an “early victim” of major social or economic disasters.

Dr. David Elliman, a consultant pediatrician at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, said it was crucial to reverse the declining vaccination trend among children.

“The effects of what’s happening in one part of the world could surge and affect the entire globe,” he said in a statement, noting the rapid spread of COVID-19 and, more recently, abekopper. “Whether we act on the basis of ethics or ‘enlightened self-interest’, we must put (children) at the top of our list of priorities.”

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