25 million children did not receive life-saving vaccines in 2021, according to WHO and UNICEF data


“The largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in about 30 years has been recorded,” the organizations said in a press release.

Between 2019 and 2021, there was a 5 point drop in the percentage of children who received three doses of DTP3, the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. This brought coverage down to 81%.

DTP3 coverage is used as a marker for wider vaccination coverage, WHO and UNICEF said.

“As a result, 25 million children missed one or more doses of DTP through routine immunization services in 2021 alone. This is 2 million more than those who missed in 2020 and 6 million more than in 2019, highlighting the growing number of children at risk of devastating but preventable diseases,” they said. Eighteen million of these children did not receive a single dose of the vaccine, the majority of whom lived in low- and middle-income countries.

Further declines were seen for HPV, with which more than a quarter of the coverage achieved in 2019 was lost, and measles, with which first-dose coverage fell to 81% in 2021. WHO notes that this is the lowest level since 2008 and means 24.7 million children missed their first dose in 2021.

All regions have seen a decline in immunization coverage, with the steepest decline in DTP3 coverage being in the East Asia and Pacific region. Some countries, however, managed to delay declines, including Uganda and Pakistan.

Several factors are behind these declines, including the increase in the number of children living in conflict zones and other fragile contexts, increased misinformation and issues related to Covid-19.

“This is a red alert for children’s health. We are witnessing the largest continuous decline in childhood immunizations in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director , Catherine Russell. “While a pandemic hangover was expected last year due to COVID-19 disruptions and lockdowns, what we are seeing now is a continued decline. COVID-19 is no excuse. We have need for catch-up vaccinations for the millions missing or we will inevitably experience more epidemics, more sick children and greater strain on already strained health systems.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Planning for and responding to COVID-19 must also go hand-in-hand with vaccination against deadly diseases like measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea. This n It’s not a question of one or the other, it’s possible to do both.”

Members of the Global Immunization Agenda 2030, an effort to maximize the life-saving impact of vaccines, call on governments and other groups to help address the decline in immunization, including by stepping up catch-up immunization efforts ; implement tailored, people-centred and evidence-based strategies to build trust; and prioritize strengthening health information and disease surveillance systems to provide the necessary data and monitoring.


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