The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported Wednesday that Covid-19 disrupted health systems, and pandemic-related lockdowns prevented children from getting the critical vaccines they require, leaving about 67 million children partially or fully unvaccinated between 2019 and 2021.
According to UNICEF, this fact sets the world back by over 10 years in terms of child immunization, undermining over a decade of progress in regular childhood vaccination. Consequently, the risk of measles and polio outbreaks is increasing.
Vaccine coverage is declining in over 100 countries, with global childhood immunization rates dropping by 5 points to reach 81% between 2019 and 2021, particularly in Africa and South Asia where 48 million children have not received a single vaccine dose. This decline occurred after a decade of stagnant growth in childhood immunization.
“Vaccines have played a really important role in allowing more children to live healthy, long lives,” stated the report’s Editor in Chief, Brian Keeley.
In a similar context, UNICEF noted that child immunization saves 4.4 million lives annually and could save almost 6 million by 2030 if the world can successfully achieve a 50% reduction in the number of children without essential vaccines, and 90% coverage for key life-saving vaccines.
Measles killed 2.6 million people, mostly children, each year before the vaccine was introduced in 1963. By 2021, that number had dropped to 128 thousand; however, measles vaccination rates dropped from 86% to 81% between 2019 and 2021. Subsequently, the number of measles cases doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.
UNICEF stated that the drop in vaccination rates is also occurring in a broader context of “a child survival crisis”, noting an overlap of crises such as malnutrition, climate change, and poverty.
UNICEF, therefore, urges a catch-up program for the 67 million children who missed their vaccinations during the pandemic and are about to fall out of the target age group for vaccinations, further calling for the strengthening of primary health care and providing frontline workers with the necessary resources and support.
UNICEF is also concerned about the declining confidence in vaccination in some countries, stressing that confidence in immunizations should not become another casualty of the pandemic.