The 25 million children who missed out on doses of DTP through routine immunization services last year, is two million more than in 2020, and six million more than in 2019, “highlighting the growing number of children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases”, said a press release issued by the UN agencies.
‘Red alert for health’
The decline was due to many factors including an increased number of children living in conflict and fragile settings where immunization access is often challenging.
Increased misinformation on social media and COVID-19 related issues such as service and supply chain disruptions, resources being diverted, and containment measures that limited access to jabs, also played a part.
“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,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.
“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 is no excuse
“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.”
Some 18 million of the 25 million children missing out, did not receive a single dose of DTP during the year, the vast majority of whom live in low and middle-income countries, with India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines recording the highest numbers, the agencies note.
Myanmar and Mozambique are among the countries with the largest relative increases in children who did not receive a single vaccine between 2019 and 2021.
Globally, over a quarter of the coverage of HPV vaccines that was achieved in 2019 has been lost.
This has grave consequences for the health of women and girls, as global coverage of the first dose of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is only 15 per cent, despite the availability of a vaccine for the past 15 years on the global market.
The agencies said they had hoped 2021 “would be a year of recovery during which strained immunization programmes would rebuild” following the first year of the pandemic, but instead, DTP3 coverage was set back to its lowest level since 2008 which, along with declines in coverage for other basic vaccines, pushed the world off-track to meet global goals, including the immunization indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).