The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the vaccination programs worldwide, causing around 25 million children to miss out on lifesaving vaccines.
The World Health Organization, alongside the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), sounded the alarm on the continued backslide in vaccinations amid the global health crisis in its latest report.
According to the organization, the world has recorded the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in three decades during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a red alert for child health. We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunization in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a press release.
Based on collected data, the percentage of children, who received three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) vaccine, fell 5% between 2019 to 2021 to 81%. This translates to around 25 million children missing out on one or more doses of the DTP3 vaccine in 2021.
Compared to the previous years, the 2021 percentage saw a significant jump. It was 2 million more than the number of kids who missed out on the vaccines in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic. Meanwhile, it was 6 million more than the reported figure in 2019.
The big leap in unvaccinated children across the globe signifies the growing number of kids at risk of contracting the devastating diseases prevented by the DTP3 vaccine.
But the WHO pointed out that it was not just the pandemic that caused the number of vaccinations to dip. Conflicts, environmental challenges, disruptive supplies, and vaccine misinformation contributed to the reduction in childhood vaccinations in recent years.
“While a pandemic hangover was expected last year as a result of COVID-19 disruptions and lockdowns, what we are seeing now is a continued decline. COVID-19 is not an excuse. We need immunization catch-ups for the missing millions or we will inevitably witness more outbreaks, more sick children and greater pressure on already strained health systems,” Russell said.
WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that while it is crucial for the medical community to tackle COVID-19, there should also be increased efforts in vaccinations for killer diseases like measles and pneumonia, among others. “It’s not a question of either/or, it’s possible to do both,” he added.