“Millions of children missed out on basic childhood vaccines in 2020 globally” – WHO, UNICEF 

Gloria Essien, Abuja


According to official data published on Thursday July 15, 2021 by WHO and UNICEF, 23 million children missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunization services in 2020.

The report says the figure is 3.7 million more than in 2019.

This latest set of comprehensive worldwide childhood immunization figures; the first official figures to reflect global service disruptions due to Covid-19, show a majority of countries last year experienced drops in childhood vaccination rates.

It noted that most of these, up to 17 million children likely did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already immense inequities in vaccine access.

It says most of these children live in communities affected by conflict, in underserved remote places, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations including limited access to basic health and key social services.

Childhood vaccination
According to WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, multiple disease outbreaks would be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and ensure every child is reached.

He said that in all regions, rising numbers of children missed vital first vaccine doses in 2020; millions more miss later vaccines.

“Even as countries clamour to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we have gone backwards on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis. Disruptions in immunization services were widespread in 2020, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean Regions most affected.  As access to health services and immunization outreach were curtailed, the number of children not receiving even their very first vaccinations increased in all regions. As compared with 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP-1) while 3 million more children missed their first measles dose”, Dr. Ghebreyesus.

He added that in all regions, rising numbers of children missed vital first vaccine doses in 2020; millions more miss later vaccines.

Covid-19 disruptions
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that that it was clear that the Covid-19 pandemic and related disruptions cost valuable ground that cannot afford to be lost.

“Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight to immunize children against preventable child illness, including with the widespread measles outbreaks two years ago. The pandemic has made a bad situation worse. With the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we must remember that vaccine distribution has always been inequitable, but it does not have to be”, Fore said.

He added that the consequences will be paid in the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable.

Below is a list of countries with the greatest increase in children not receiving a first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis combined vaccine (DTP-1)

2019                        2020

India                                                1’403’000                   3’038’000

Pakistan                                             567’000                     968’000

Indonesia                                           472’000                     797’000

Philippines                                         450’000                     557’000

Mexico                                               348’000                     454’000

Mozambique                                        97’000                      186’000

Angola                                               399’000                      482’000

United Republic of Tanzania                183’000                     249’000

Argentina                                             97’000                     156’000

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)         75’000                    134’000

Mali                                                    136’000                    193’000

The data shows that middle-income countries now account for an increasing share of unprotected children – that is, children missing out on at least some vaccine doses. India is experiencing a particularly large drop, with DTP-3 coverage falling from 91% to 85%.

Fuelled by funding shortfalls, vaccine misinformation, instability and other factors, a troubling picture is also emerging in WHO’s Region of the Americas, where vaccination coverage continues to fall. Just 82% of children are fully vaccinated with DTP, down from 91% in 2016.

Countries risk resurgence of measles, other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio had stalled for several years at around 86%, which was well below the 95% recommended by WHO to protect against measles.


Nneka Ukachukwu

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