The Covid-19 pandemic has led to huge drops in childhood vaccinations, leaving countries most vulnerable to disease outbreaks, the World Health Organization has warned.
At least 23m children worldwide have missed routine strokes last year since health services were disrupted, according to WHO and Unicef data. The data show that vaccination rates have fallen in most countries, with Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean regions the hardest hit.
In India last year, more than 3 million children did not receive their first combined dose of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine, from 1.4 million who were not vaccinated in 2019.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, has called for more investment in childhood vaccination, warning that many disease outbreaks would be “catastrophic” for communities already struggling with coronavirus.
“Even when people cry to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we are lagging behind in other vaccinations, leaving children at risk for devastating but preventable diseases such as measles, polio or meningitis,” he said. .
Health systems have struggled to cope with the flooding of Covid patients, supply chains have been disrupted by blockages and some patients have been reluctant to seek care, fearing they will be infected by the virus.
As developed countries with greater access to Covid vaccines seek to reintroduce their health programs, the pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities. The two agencies said 17m of children – mostly in communities affected by the conflict, in remote areas or in informal settings of slums – were unlikely to have received a single vaccine during the year.
Henrietta Fore, executive director of Unicef, said that even before the pandemic, there were “worrying signs” that the world was losing ground in the fight to immunize children. In 2018, more than 140,000 people, mostly under the age of five, died from it measles while cases have developed, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine.
The WHO estimates that 95 percent of children worldwide will need to be vaccinated against measles to prevent such outbreaks – but vaccination rates have been set at about 86 percent.
“The pandemic has worsened the situation. With the right distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the forefront of everyone’s mind, we must remember that the distribution of vaccines has always been unfair, but it should not be, ”he said.
Vaccination rates may also have been influenced by misinformation, particularly in America, the two agencies say. This week in the United States, Tennessee stopped the spread to convince teens to get vaccinated, following a backlash against a campaign to promote the Covid coup.
Seth Berkley, chief executive of the Gavi vaccine alliance, said the “alarming numbers” suggest “canceling years of progress”.
“This is a wake-up call: we can’t allow a legacy of Covid-19 to be the rebirth of measles, polio and other killers,” he said.