By Chioma Obinna

No fewer than 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccinations in 2020, a new report released by the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has disclosed.

The report released on Thursday also noted that the number was the highest since 2009 with 3.7 million more than in 2019.

The latest set of comprehensive worldwide childhood immunization figures which is the first official figure to reflect global service disruptions due to COVID-19 showed that the majority of countries last year experienced drops in childhood vaccination rates.

The report expressed worry that up to 17 million children likely did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already immense inequities in vaccine access.

The report further noted that most of the children live in communities affected by conflict, in under-served remote places, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations including limited access to basic health and key social services.

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Reacting to the report, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said even as countries clamour to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccines, we have gone backward on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis.

  “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 all regions, rising numbers of children miss vital first vaccine doses in 2020; millions more miss later vaccines

Disruptions in immunization services were widespread in 2020, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean Regions most affected.  As access to health services and immunization outreach were curtailed, the number of children not receiving even their very first vaccinations increased in all regions.

The report notes that as compared with 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.

Also speaking, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said: “This evidence should be a clear 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.

“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. 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.”

The report which shows that India leads in unimmunised children also noted that countries risk resurgence of measles, other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Commenting, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Dr Seth Berkley, said: “These are alarming numbers, suggesting the pandemic is unravelling years of progress in routine immunization and exposing millions of children to deadly, preventable diseases.

 “This is a wake-up call, we cannot allow a legacy of COVID-19 to be the resurgence of measles, polio, and other killers. We all need to work together to help countries both defeat COVID-19, by ensuring global, equitable access to vaccines, and get routine immunization programmes back on track. The future health and wellbeing of millions of children and their communities across the globe depend on it.”

Agencies call for urgent recovery and investment in routine immunization.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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