Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that middle-income countries now account for an increasing share of unprotected children who were missing out on at least some vaccine doses.
The data released on Wednesday cited India as experiencing a particularly huge drop, with DTP-3 coverage falling from 91 per cent to 85 per cent.
Fuelled by funding shortfalls, vaccine misinformation, instability and other factors, a troubling picture was also emerging in WHO’s Region of the Americas, where vaccination coverage continued to fall to 82 per cent of children that were fully vaccinated with DTP, down from 91 per cent in 2016.
As a result, it said, countries risked resurgence of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, stressing that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, global childhood vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio had stalled for several years at around 86 per cent.
” This rate is well below the 95 per cent recommended by WHO to protect against measles, often the first disease to resurge when children are not reached with vaccines and insufficient to stop other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The data also showed that with many resources and personnel diverted to support the COVID-19 response, there had been significant disruptions to immunization service provision in many parts of the world.
In some countries clinics had been closed or hours reduced, while people may have been reluctant to seek healthcare because of fear of transmission or have experienced challenges reaching services due to lockdown measures and transportation disruptions.
“These are alarming numbers, suggesting that the pandemic is unravelling years of progress in routine immunization and exposing millions of children to deadly, preventable diseases.
 “This is a wake-up call, we cannot allow a legacy of COVID-19 to be the resurgence of measles, polio and other killers.
“We all need to work together to help countries both defeat COVID-19, by ensuring global, equitable access to vaccines, and get routine immunization programmes back on track.
“The future health and wellbeing of millions of children and their communities across the globe depends on it,” Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, Vaccine Alliance said.
 Already at low rates, vaccinations against human papillomavirus (HPV), which protects girls against cervical cancer later in life, have been highly affected by school closures.
As a result, across countries that have introduced HPV vaccine to date, approximately 1.6 million more girls missed out in 2020, with the data showing that globally only 13 per cent girls were vaccinated against HPV, a fall from 15 per cent in 2019.
The agencies called for urgent recovery and investment in routine immunization as countries work to recover lost ground due to COVID-19 related disruptions.
In the meantime, UNICEF, WHO and partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are supporting efforts to strengthen immunization systems by restoring services and vaccination campaigns so that countries can safely deliver routine immunization programmes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Others are helping health workers and community leaders communicate actively with caregivers to explain the importance of vaccinations and rectifying gaps in immunization coverage, including identifying communities and people who have been missed during the pandemic.
The data said the agencies would also ensure that COVID-19 vaccine delivery was independently planned for and financed and that it occurs alongside, and not at the cost of childhood vaccination services.
It said that the agencies would implement country plans to prevent and respond to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, and strengthen immunization systems as part of COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Similarly, the agencies are working with countries and partners to deliver the ambitious targets of the Global Immunization Agenda 2030, which aims to achieve 90 per cent coverage for essential childhood vaccines; halve the number of entirely unvaccinated, or ‘zero dose’ children, the data said.
It added that there would be increase in the uptake of newer lifesaving vaccines such as rotavirus or pneumococcus in low and middle-income countries. (NAN)