The number of children not receiving the first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) combined vaccine in India increased the most in the world in 2020, according to the UN, which noted with concern that 23 million children globally missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunization services last year due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 23 million children missed out on basic childhood immunizations through routine health care in 2020, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million higher than in 2019. This latest set of full global childhood immunization numbers, the first official figures to incorporate global service disruptions caused by COVID-19, show that the majority of countries saw a reduction in childhood vaccination rates last year.
Concerningly, most of these up to 17 million children did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already enormous inequities in vaccine access, it said, adding that the majority of these children live in conflict-affected communities, under-served remote locations, or in informal or slum settings where they face multiple deprivations, including limited access to basic health key social services. “Even as countries clamor 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,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
India has the highest rise in the world in children who did not receive a first dose of the combined diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination (DTP-1). According to the UN, 1.4 million children in India did not receive the first dose of the DTP-1 vaccine in 2019, and this figure is expected to rise to 3 million by 2020. According to the agencies, India is suffering a particularly severe reduction, with DTP-3 coverage falling from 91% to 85%.
They also stated that immunization service delays were widespread in 2020, with the WHO Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean Regions being the most affected. In comparison to 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP-1) vaccine and 3 million more missed their first dose of measles.
This information should serve as a strong warning that the COVID-19 pandemic and related interruptions cost us vital ground we cannot afford to lose, and the repercussions will be paid in the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable, according to UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
Even before the pandemic, there were indicators that we were losing progress in the campaign to immunize children against avoidable childhood illnesses, such as significant measles outbreaks two years ago. The pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation. With the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on everyone’s mind, we must remember that vaccine distribution has always been inequitable, but it does not have to be, according to Henrietta Fore.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and polio had been stuck at approximately 86 percent, according to UN agencies. This number is significantly below the 95% recommended by WHO to guard against measles – which is generally the first disease to resurface when children are not vaccinated – and insufficient to prevent other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The agencies are collaborating with countries and partners to meet the ambitious targets of the global Immunisation Agenda 2030, which aims to achieve 90% coverage for essential childhood vaccines, halve the number of completely unvaccinated, or zero doses’ children, and increase uptake of newer lifesaving vaccines like rotavirus or pneumococcus in low and middle-income countries, they say.
(Content credit: NDTV)