6.7 crore children deprived of vaccines due to covid: unicef

Vaccines save 4.4 million lives every year.

United Nations, United States of America:

The United Nations said on Wednesday that some 67 million children between 2019 and 2021 may have partially or completely missed routine immunizations due to lockdowns and health care disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a decade of hard-earned gains in routine childhood immunization have been wiped out, says a new report from the United Nations’ children’s agency, UNICEF, “getting back on track” will be challenging.

UNICEF has raised concerns about possible polio and measles outbreaks, saying that of the 67 million children whose vaccinations were “severely disrupted”, 48 million were left out of routine vaccines altogether.

Immunization coverage among children declined in 112 countries, and the percentage of children vaccinated worldwide fell 5 points to 81 percent – ​​a low not seen since 2008. Africa and South Asia were particularly hard hit.

“Worryingly, the backsliding during the pandemic came at the end of a decade when the increase in widespread childhood vaccinations stalled,” the report said.

Vaccines save 4.4 million lives every year, a figure the UN figures could rise to 5.8 million by 2030 if its ambitious targets of leaving “nobody behind” are met.

“Vaccines have played a really important role in allowing more children to live healthier, longer lives,” Brian Keeley, the report’s editor-in-chief, told AFP. “Any drop in vaccination rates is worrying.”

Before the introduction of a vaccine in 1963, measles killed about 2.6 million people each year, mostly children. By 2021, that number had dropped to 128,000.

But between 2019 and 2021, the percentage of children vaccinated against measles dropped from 86 percent to 81 percent, and the number of cases in 2022 is expected to double from 2021.

Lack of trust in vaccine

Keely warned, the decline in vaccination rates could be linked to other crises, from climate change to food insecurity.

“There is an increasing number of conflicts, economic stagnation in many countries, climate emergencies, and so on,” he said. “This makes it harder and harder for all types of health systems and countries to meet vaccination needs.”

UNICEF called on governments to “double their commitment to increase funding for immunization”, with a special focus on accelerating “catch-up” vaccination efforts for those who missed their shots.

The report also raised concerns about a decline in public confidence in vaccines, which was observed in 52 of the 55 countries surveyed.

“We cannot allow faith in routine vaccinations to fall victim to a pandemic,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a statement. “Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases.”

The report said vaccine confidence could be “volatile and time specific”, noting that further analysis would be needed to determine “whether the findings are indicative of a longer-term trend” beyond the pandemic.

Overall, it said support for vaccines “remains relatively strong.”

In nearly half of the 55 countries surveyed, more than 80 percent of respondents “viewed vaccines as important for children.”

“There is some hope that services are recovering in some countries,” Keeley said.

But even getting back to pre-pandemic levels will take years, he said, “not including reaching children who were missing before the pandemic.”

“And they are not an unfounded number.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)