Over 13 million children globally missed out routine vaccinations: UNICEF

10:26 PM | 26 Apr, 2020
Over 13 million children globally missed out routine vaccinations: UNICEF

UNITED NATIONS - Over 13 million children did not receive any vaccinations in 2018, and millions more are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines this year due to disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a UNICEF report.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak shut down vital immunization programs, more than 20 million children living in countries with weak healthcare systems went without measles, polio and other vaccines every year, the report from UN’s children agency said.

The agency called on governments to step up, warning that disrupting immunization services amid the COVID-19 pandemic could leave even more of the world’s most marginalized children without access to life-saving vaccines.

“The stakes have never been higher. As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, our life-saving work to provide children with vaccines is critical,” Robin Nandy, UNICEF Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunization, said in a statement.

With disruptions in immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she stressed that the fates of millions of young lives “hang in the balance.”

UNICEF estimates that 182 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2018, or 20.3 million children a year on average. This is because the global coverage of the first dose of measles stands only at 86 per cent, well below the 95 per cent needed to prevent measles outbreaks.

Widening pockets of unvaccinated children led to alarming measles outbreaks in 2019, including in high-income countries like the US, UK, and France. Meanwhile, among low-income countries, the gaps in measles coverage before COVID-19 were already alarming.

Beyond measles, the immunization gaps were already quite dire, according to new regional profiles developed by UNICEF.

UNICEF said it is sending critical vaccine supplies to immunize children, where possible, in areas with outbreaks and to replenish their routine supplies.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, UNICEF is supporting the Government with vaccine supplies and protective equipment to continue immunization activities in North Kivu province, where over 3,000 cases of measles were reported since January 1.

As the world races to develop and test a new COVID-19 vaccine, UNICEF and partners in the Measles & Rubella Initiative and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are calling on governments and donors to:

— Sustain immunization services while keeping health workers and communities safe;

— Start planning to ramp up vaccinations for every missed child when the pandemic ends;

— Fully replenish Gavi, as the alliance supports immunization programs in the future; and

— Ensure that when the COVID-19 vaccine is available, it reaches those most in need.

“Children missing out now on vaccines must not go their whole lives without protection from disease,” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said. “The legacy of COVID-19 must not include the global resurgence of other killers like measles and polio.”