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WHO reports “alarming decline” in child vaccinations due to COVID-19 disruption

Published on 17/07/20 at 11:40am
Image Credit: James Gathany Content Providers (s): CDC

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have pointed to an “alarming decline” in the levels of children worldwide receiving essential vaccinations due to delivery and uptake disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This disruption threatens to undo the progress from recent vaccine projects, such as the roll out of the human papillovirus (HPV) vaccine to 106 countries around the world, according to vaccine coverage data from 2019.

Uptake in children receiving three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) vaccine in the first four months of 2020 had seen a “substantial drop” – meaning this year could be the first in 28 years to see a reduction in coverage of the vaccine. However, uptake of the vaccine had actually began to stall ahead of the pandemic’s arrival, at 85%

Three quarters of 82 responding countries had seen their immunisation programmes impacted and interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic as of May 2020, according to a survey conducted by UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse, together with the US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This could be the result of a range of factors, such as patients unable or unwilling to leave home, transport disruption or restrictions, or reallocated services or lack of effective protective equipment.

The data also revealed that at least 30 vaccination campaigns for measles were at risk of being cancelled or had already been cancelled, raising concerns around a possible outbreak of the disease later this year.

It is estimated that almost 19 million children did not receive life-saving vaccines for conditions like measles last year, predominantly in Africa due to lack of treatment access, but also across Mexxico, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. According to the WHO, a child born today has only a one in five chance of having received all the globally recommended vaccinations by the time they are five years old.

Despite this, the WHO was keen to point out successes, including that regional coverage for the third dose of DTP in South Asia has risen 12% over the past decade, but these are not exempt from undone due to COVID-19.

“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunized than ever before,” commented WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But the pandemic has put those 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.”

Matt Fellows

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