July 26, 2023

In The News: Childhood Immunization Rates That Fell During Covid Improving But Still Not at Pre-Pandemic Levels, Data Shows

CNN reports new data estimates by UNICEF and WHO suggest a reverse in the number of children worldwide missing routine childhood vaccinations. Following two years of coverage declines, this year is experiencing an improvement. Four million more children received their routine childhood immunizations than the previous year. The trend was seen as a positive with more work left to do.

In 2019, the year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 12.9 million children missed all of their vaccinations. That number ballooned to 18.1 million in 2021 and came back down to 14.3 million in 2022. Similarly, the number of children who missed some (one or more) routine vaccinations has begun to fall back to its 2019 number of 18.4 million, going from 24.4 million in 2021 to 20.5 million last year.

UNICEF and WHO analyzed data for vaccinations against 13 diseases contributed by 183 countries. There were substantial declines – a drop of five percentage points or more – reported in 73 of those 183 countries. Fifteen had returned to pre-pandemic levels of immunization, 24 were reported to be en route to recovery, and 34 had remained stagnant or experienced further decline.

Severe inequities persist among the countries of the world, and in the countries analyzed. The improvements among the latter were concentrated in South Asia, an area that had reported increases heading into the pandemic, as well. Nearly all of the improvements occurred in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Disparities were viewed not only between countries but also between specific vaccinations. The percentage of children who completed their first dose of the measles vaccine was 86% in 2019, compared to 81% in 2021 and 83% achieved last year. Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, meanwhile, went from 90% in 2019 to 86% in 2021 back to 89% in 2022. On the plus side, HPV vaccination is above (22%) 2019’s level (19%), though far from the 90% of girls goal.

PIDS member and International Affairs Committee vice-chair Ian Michelow commented on the story, “The WHO/UNICEF report is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is a tale of two pandemics–richer nations have managed to achieve a robust recovery in routine childhood vaccination coverage, but poorer nations have lagged behind. Unfortunately, the impact of such imbalance in healthcare access will reverberate for years to come. Now is the time for all key stakeholders to recommit to an equitable allocation of life-saving resources.”

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