COVID-19 Disrupted Childhood Vaccination Programs
According to data published today by WHO and UNICEF, a majority of countries last year experienced drops in childhood vaccination rates. As a result, about 23 million children missed routine immunization services in 2020.
Concerningly, most of these – up to 17 million children – likely did not receive a single vaccine during 2020, widening already immense inequities in vaccine access, says the WHO.
“Even as countries clamor to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccines, we have gone backward on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio, or meningitis,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a press statement issued on July 15, 2021.
“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.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and polio had stalled for several years at around 86%. This rate is well below the 95% recommended by WHO to protect against measles –often the first disease to resurge when children are not reached with vaccines - and insufficient to stop other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The WHO says 'concerns are not just for outbreak-prone diseases. Already at low rates, vaccinations against human papillomavirus (HPV) - which protect girls and boys from cancer later in life - have been highly affected by school closures.
As a result, across countries that have introduced an HPV vaccine, approximately 1.6 million more girls missed out in 2020. Globally only 13% of girls were vaccinated against HPV, falling from 15% in 2019.