The world is going to see a drastic decline in the number of children receiving life saving vaccines, warned the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.
The fall in vaccines, due to coronavirus pandemic, threaten to reverse hard won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been hampered by a decade of stalling coverage, the new data from WHO and UNICEF said. .
The latest data pointed out that improvements such as expansion of HPV vaccine to 106 countries and greater protection for children against more diseases are in danger of lapsing. It notes a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis for the first four months of 2020. The world organisations also said that it was the first time in 28 years that the world could see a reduction in DTP3 coverage.
Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the pandemic has put the gains at risk. “The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programmes continue,” he said.
About 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic, the WHO and UNICEF said. This could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond, they added.
According to the new WHO, UNICEF and Gavi Pulse survey, three quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunization programmes as of May 2020. It pointed out that the disruption was because of several reasons such as transportation issues, reluctance to go out of homes, restrictions on movements and economic hardships.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said “we must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programs before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”
The data also showed that the likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time it reaches the age of five is less than 20 per cent.
Stating that nearly 14 million children have already missed out on life-saving vaccines such as measles and DTP3 in 2019, they said that these children were from Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services.
The UNICEF and WHO said that they were supporting countries in restoring services so that they could safely deliver routine immunization services during the pandemic, helping health workers to communicate actively with caregivers, rectifying coverage and immunity gaps and expanding routine services to reach missed communities, where some of the most vulnerable children live.