The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have warned of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world; because of COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO, in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, July 15, stated that the decline was due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services; caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions 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 latest data on vaccine coverage estimates from WHO and UNICEF for 2019 shows that improvements; such as the expansion of the HPV vaccine to 106 countries; and greater protection for children against more diseases are in danger of lapsing.
For example, the statement stated that preliminary data for the first four months of 2020 pointed to a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3).
“This is the first time in 28 years that the world could see a reduction in DTP3 coverage; the marker for immunisation coverage within and across countries.’’
The statement quoted Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, as saying; “Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunised than ever before.
“But the pandemic has put those gains at risk.
“The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunisations 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.”
In addition, the statement said due to the COVID-19 pandemic; at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond.
According to a new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey, conducted in collaboration with the US Centres for Disease Control; the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“The survey stated that three-quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions; in their immunisation programmes as of May 2020.
“We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage; and urgently resume vaccination programmes before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”
The statement further stated that progress on immunisation coverage was stalling before COVID-19 hit; at 85 per cent for DTP3 and measles vaccines.
“The likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time she reaches the age of five is less than 20 per cent.
“In 2019, nearly 14 million children missed out on life-saving vaccines such as measles and DTP3; most of these children live in Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services.
“Two-thirds of them are concentrated in 10 middle- and low-income countries: Angola; Brazil; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; India; Indonesia; Mexico; Nigeria; Pakistan; and also the Philippines,’’ it stated.