By Chioma Obinna
The World Health Organisation, WHO, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Monday disclosed that over 12.9 million infants (1 in 10) were not immunised in 2016.
In a new report released yesterday, the duo alerted that these infants are seriously at risk of potentially fatal diseases since they missed the first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP)-containing vaccine.
According to the report, an estimated 6.6 million infants who did receive their first dose of DTP-containing vaccine did not complete the full, three dose DTP immunization series (DTP3) in 2016.
Since 2010, the percentage of children who received their full course of routine immunizations has stalled at 86 percent (116.5 million infants), with no significant changes in any countries or regions during the past year. This falls short of the global immunization coverage target of 90 percent.
Reacting to the new report, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele said: “Most of the children that remain un-immunized are the same ones missed by health systems. These children most likely have also not received any of the other basic health services.
If we are to raise the bar on global immunization coverage, health services must reach the unreached. Every contact with the health system must be seen as an opportunity to immunize.”
Okwo-Bele noted that immunization currently averts between 2 to 3 million deaths every year, from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.
The WHO director said immunisation is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.
According to the new data, 130 of the 194 WHO Member States have achieved and sustained at least 90 percent coverage for DTP3 at the national level – one of the targets set out in the Global Vaccine Action Plan. However, an estimated 10 million additional infants need to be vaccinated in 64 countries, if all countries are to achieve at least 90 percent coverage.
Of these children, 7.3 million live in fragile or humanitarian settings, including countries affected by conflict. 4 million of them also live in just three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – where access to routine immunization services is critical to achieving and sustaining polio eradication.
“In 2016, eight countries had less than 50 percent coverage with DTP3 in 2016, including Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Ukraine. Globally, 85 percent of children have been vaccinated with the first dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services, and 64 percent with a second dose. Nevertheless, coverage levels remain well short of those required to prevent outbreaks, avert preventable deaths and achieve regional measles elimination goals.
Also commenting on the report, Chief of Immunizations at UNICEF, Dr Robin Nandy said: “Immunization is one of the most pro-equity interventions around. Bringing life-saving vaccines to the poorest communities, women and children must be considered a top priority in all contexts.”