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Covid-19 pandemic led to 25 million children missing vaccinations, highest in three decades

Vaccination teams, including community health workers and village elders working at full force in Mogadishu, Somalia to deliver lifesaving immunization to children under the age of five. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

Vaccination teams, including community health workers and village elders working at full force in Mogadishu, Somalia to deliver lifesaving immunization to children under the age of five. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

Published Jul 15, 2022

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In 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted health care around the world and led to around 25 million children missing their routine vaccinations that offer protection against life-threatening diseases.

These are the findings of a new study conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Last year marked the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in approximately 30 years.

In a statement, the WHO said the sharp decline highlights the growing number of children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases.

“The percentage of children who received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) – a marker for immunisation coverage within and across countries – fell 5 percentage points between 2019 and 2021 to 81 per cent,” said the health organisation.

Around 18 million of the 25 million children did not receive a single dose of DTP in 2021.

Data for the study was collected from hospitals, national health services, clinics and community centres from 177 countries around the world.

The vast majority of children who did not receive a single dose of DTP during 2021 live in low- and middle-income countries, including India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

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Unicef Executive Director Catherine Russell said the pandemic should not be an excuse for missed immunisations, and if there is a continued decline, more children will get sick and will place greater pressure on already strained health systems.

“This is a red alert for child health. We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunisation in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives,” she said.

The WHO says the decline was due to factors, including an increased number of children living in conflict and fragile settings where immunisations access is challenging, misinformation, and Covid-19 related issues.

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The WHO and Unicef are working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and other partners to deliver the global Immunisation Agenda 2030 (IA2030).

This strategy will set goals on preventing diseases through immunisation and delivering vaccines to all who require them.

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