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Childhood vaccination rates drop amid COVID-19 disruption: UNICEF | Health Information

Some 67 million children have missed out on routine shots, raising the risk of measles and polio outbreaks, the UN children’s agency said.

Some 67 million children worldwide missed out on routine vaccinations partially or completely between 2019 and 2021 due to healthcare disruptions caused by lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the UN children’s agency.

In its annual State of the World’s Children report released on Wednesday, UNICEF warned that “more than a decade of hard-won gains in routine immunization of children have been eroded, and warned that getting back on track will be difficult” challenging”.

Of the 67 million children whose vaccinations have been “significantly interrupted,” 48 million have missed out on routine vaccinations entirely, the agency said, warning of possible outbreaks of polio and measles.

Childhood vaccine coverage fell in 112 countries, with the proportion of children globally vaccinated slipping 5 percentage points to 81%, the lowest level since 2008. Africa and South Asia have been hit particularly hard.

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

Keeley warned that other crises, from climate change to food insecurity, could exacerbate the decline in vaccination rates.

“Increasing conflicts in many countries, stagnant economies, climate emergencies and more,” he said. “It’s all making it increasingly difficult for health systems and countries to meet the need for vaccinations.”

UNICEF is calling on governments to “redouble their commitment to increase immunization financing”, with particular attention to accelerating “catch-up” vaccinations for those who have missed them.

Before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles killed an estimated 2.6 million people a year, mostly children. The death toll has dropped to 128,000 in 2021, but the number of cases doubled in 2022 as vaccine coverage fell to 81% that year, compared with 86% in 2019.

“Warning Signs”

The UNICEF report also shows that confidence in the importance of routine childhood vaccines has declined.

Public opinion of childhood vaccines declined between 2019 and 2021 in 52 of the 55 countries surveyed, the U.N. agency said.

It said the data were a “worrying warning sign” of hesitancy about vaccines amid misinformation, declining trust in government and political polarization.

“We cannot allow confidence in routine immunization to become another casualty of the pandemic,” UNICEF Executive Director Katherine Russell said in a statement. “Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases.”

The number of people agreeing with the statement “vaccines are important for children” fell by 44% in countries including Papua New Guinea and South Korea, and fell by more than a third in Ghana, Senegal and Japan.

In the US, it fell 13.6 percentage points. Confidence remained broadly unchanged or increased in India, China and Mexico, the report added.

The report highlights that vaccine confidence can easily shift and the results may not represent long-term trends.

Despite the drop in confidence, more than 80% of respondents in nearly half of the countries surveyed still said childhood vaccines were important.

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