67m children missed out on vaccinations during Covid-1921 April 2023
The public perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined during the COVID-19 pandemic in 52 out of 55 countries studied, UNICEF warned in a new report on immunization today.
'The State of the World's Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination' reveals the perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined by more than a third in the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Senegal and Japan after the start of the pandemic.
In the new data, collected by The Vaccine Confidence Project and published today by UNICEF, China, India and Mexico were the only countries studied where the data indicates the perception of the importance of vaccines held firm or even improved.
In most countries, people under 35 and women were more likely to report less confidence about vaccines for children after the start of the pandemic.
Vaccine confidence is volatile and time specific.
Additional data collection and further analysis will be required to determine if the findings are indicative of a longer-term trend. Despite the falls, overall support for vaccines remains relatively strong. In almost half the 55 countries studied more than 80 percent of respondents perceived vaccines as important for children.
However, the report warns the confluence of several factors suggest the threat of vaccine hesitancy may be growing.
These factors include uncertainty about the response to the pandemic, growing access to misleading information, declining trust in expertise, and political polarisation.
"At the height of the pandemic, scientists rapidly developed vaccines that saved countless lives. But despite this historic achievement, fear and disinformation about all types of vaccines circulated as widely as the virus itself," said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.
"This data is a worrying warning signal. We cannot allow confidence in routine immunizations to become another victim of the pandemic. Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be of more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases."
Alarmingly, the decline in confidence comes amid the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunisation in 30 years, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic interrupted childhood vaccination almost everywhere, especially due to intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunization resources to Covid-19 vaccination, health worker shortages and stay-at-home measures.
Today's report warns a total of 67 million children missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries.
Children born just before or during the pandemic are now moving past the age when they would normally be vaccinated, underscoring the need for urgent action to catch up on those who were missed and prevent deadly disease outbreaks.
In 2022, for example, the number of measles cases was more than double the total in the previous year. The number of children paralysed by polio was up 16 percent year-on-year in 2022.
When comparing the 2019 to 2021 period with the previous three-year period, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of children paralysed by polio, highlighting the need to ensure vaccination efforts are sustained.
In Bangladesh, health services were initially impacted when the country went into pandemic lockdown in March 2020, leading to coverage falling below 50 per cent in the following months.
But with UNICEF support, the Government of Bangladesh moved quickly to address the decline in immunization, and the monthly uptake of vaccines surpassed pre-Covid-19 levels by October 2020.
Valid immunization coverage in the country remains high, with almost 84 percent of children receiving their vaccines by 12 months of age.
Valid coverage is when a child receives all vaccines due in their first 12 months according to the national immunization schedule. The pandemic also exacerbated existing inequities.
For far too many children, especially in the most marginalised communities, vaccination is still not available, accessible or affordable. Even before the pandemic, progress on vaccination had stalled for almost a decade as the world struggled to reach the most marginalised children.
Of the 67 million children who missed out on routine vaccination between 2019 and 2021, 48 million didn't receive a single routine vaccine, also known as "zero-dose".
As of the end of 2021, India and Nigeria (both countries with very large birth cohorts) had the largest numbers of zero-dose children but increases in the numbers of zero-dose children were especially notable in Myanmar and the Philippines.