The UN on Thursday warned that a “perfect storm” was brewing, with a raging pandemic disrupting access to routine immunizations, leaving millions of children exposed to measles and other deadly diseases.
Last year, 23 million children did not receive basic childhood vaccines as routine health services around the world were affected by restrictions to control Covid-19 and many parents have avoided open clinics for fear of being exposed to the virus.
This is the highest number in more than a decade and 3.7 million more than in 2019, according to data released Thursday by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations agency. United for Children.
And the sharp drop in routine vaccinations comes as many countries have started to ease restrictions even as the pandemic is far from over.
This has the potential not only to increase the transmission of Covid, but also to allow diseases otherwise preventable by vaccination to begin to spread.
Indeed, restrictions in many countries have so far also provided a tampon protecting unvaccinated children from exposure to childhood illnesses.
“In 2021, we potentially have a perfect storm about to happen,” Kate O’Brien, head of the WHO’s vaccine and immunization department, told reporters.
– ‘Alarm ringtone’ –
She warned that there was now “an accumulation of children who are not immunized because they did not receive vaccines, and more and more transmission due to the too early publication of health measures. public and social.
“This is the kind of perfect storm we’re sounding the alarm bells for right now,” said O’Brien, highlighting the “WHO’s great concern about these very epidemic-prone diseases”.
“We must act now to protect these children. “
Data released Thursday revealed that a growing number of children in all regions missed the first vital vaccine doses last year while millions more missed subsequent vaccines.
Compared with 2019, 3.5 million more children missed their first dose of the three-dose diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine, while three million more children missed their first dose against measles, according to the data.
Even more concerning perhaps, as many as 17 million children, living mostly in conflict-affected communities or in remote, underserved areas or informal slums, likely did not receive a single vaccine in 2020.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting disruption has cost us valuable land that we cannot afford to lose,” UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore said in a statement, warning that “the consequences will be paid. in the life and well-being of the most vulnerable ”.
She said even before Covid, “there were worrying signs that we were starting to lose ground in the fight to immunize children against preventable childhood diseases.”
“The pandemic has made a bad situation worse. “
– ‘Catastrophe’ –
Global coverage for the three doses of DTP, for example, had stagnated at 86 percent in recent years, but then fell to 83 percent in 2020, meaning 22.7 million children were missed. affected.
As for measles, which is highly contagious and requires a vaccination rate of at least 95 percent to prevent spread, the vaccination rate for the first dose increased from 86 to 84 percent last year, while only 71 percent received a second dose.
The situation is very variable, with data showing a particularly sharp decline in vaccination rates in Southeast Asia.
In India, which was ravaged by a devastating second wave of Covid, the number of children who missed their first dose of DTP more than doubled to over three million last year from 1.4 million in 2019.
Coverage for the three doses of DTP in the country fell from 91 to 85 percent, according to the data.
Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines have also seen the number of unprotected children increase dramatically.
In the Americas, meanwhile, UN agencies have warned that “a disturbing picture is emerging as well,” although not necessarily due to the pandemic.
They warned that funding shortages, misinformation about vaccines and other factors continued to push the rate of children receiving the three DTP injections down, from 91 percent in 2016 to just 82 percent in 2016. last year.
Mexico was among the countries where the number of children missing their first dose of DTP is increasing the fastest, from 348,000 in 2019 to 454,000 in 2020, according to the data.
The UN has warned against sacrificing routine childhood vaccines in the rush to deploy Covid vaccines.
“Even though countries are clamoring to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we have backed down on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk for devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis,” warned the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the statement.
“Multiple disease outbreaks would be devastating for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood immunizations and ensure every child is reached. “
© 2021 AFP