Covid-19 causing backslide in childhood disease inoculations, warn UN agencies
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Geneva - Most countries across the globe delivered fewer basic childhood immunizations in 2020 because of Covid-19 disruptions, two UN agencies said on Thursday.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) published new data showing that 23 million children missed the injections last year, 3.7 million more than in 2019.
Up to 17 million children of the 23 million likely did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already huge inequities in vaccine access, the agencies said. Most of the 17 million children live in communities affected by conflict, in under-served remote places, or informal or slum settings.
In such situations, they face multiple deprivations, including limited access to essential health and vital social services.
In all regions, rising numbers of children missed critical first vaccine doses in 2020; millions more miss later vaccines, the data showed.
The WHO Southeast Asia and Eastern Mediterranean regions were the most affected, the data showed.
"Even as countries clamour to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we have gone backwards 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.
"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."
In 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP-1), while 3 million more children missed their first measles dose, the data showed.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, said it should be a warning.
"The Covid-19 pandemic and related disruptions cost us valuable ground we cannot afford to lose - and the consequences will be paid in the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable," she said.
"Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight to immunize children against preventable child illness, including with the widespread measles outbreaks two years ago."
"The pandemic has made a bad situation worse," said Fore. "With the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines at the forefront of everyone's minds, we must remember that vaccine distribution has always been inequitable, but it does not have to be."