•Polio vaccination with the Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) type 1 rose from 81 per cent in 2019 to 86 per cent last year, the estimates show.
•It was hoped that 2021 would be a year of recovery during which strained immunization programmes would rebuild and the cohort of children missing in 2020 would be caught-up.
Kenya maintained high levels of coverage in routine immunization, whilst rolling out the Covid-19 vaccines last year, data published by WHO and Unicef indicates.
However, most developing countries globally registered the worst decline in approximately 30 years.
But in Kenya, BCG vaccination rates jumped from 82 per cent in 2018 to 88 per cent in 2020, dropping to 85 per cent last year.
Polio vaccination with the Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) type 1 rose from 81 per cent in 2019 to 86 per cent last year, the World Health Organization estimates show.
Rotavirus vaccine completed dose (RotaC) immunization coverage among one-year-olds jumped from 82 per cent in 2019 to 89 per cent last year.
The percentage of children who received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) – jumped from 83 per dent in 2019 to 89 per cent last year.
However, globally, the share of children vaccinated with DTP3 fell five percentage points between 2019 and 2021 to 81 per cent.
WHO and Unicef said globally, 25 million children missed out on one or more doses of DTP through routine immunization services in 2021 alone, highlighting the growing number of children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases.
“This is a red alert for child health. We are witnessing the largest sustained drop in childhood immunization in a generation. The consequences will be measured in lives,” said Catherine Russell, Unicef Executive Director.
“While a pandemic hangover was expected last year as a result of Covid-19 disruptions and lockdowns, what we are seeing now is a continued decline. Covid-19 is not an excuse. We need immunization catch-ups for the missing millions or we will inevitably witness more outbreaks, more sick children and greater pressure on already strained health systems.”
The data showed only a few developed countries held off the decline during the pandemic.
Uganda also maintained high levels of coverage in routine immunization programmes, whilst rolling out Covid-19 vaccines.
Similarly, Pakistan returned to pre-pandemic levels of coverage thanks to high-level government commitment and significant catch-up immunization efforts.
The decline in routine vaccination was due to many factors including an increased number of children living in conflict and fragile settings where immunization access is often challenging, increased misinformation and Covid-19 related issues.
Covid caused supply chain disruptions, resource diversion to response efforts, and containment measures that limited immunization service access and availability.
Globally, over a quarter of the coverage of HPV vaccines that was achieved in 2019 has been lost, the data also show.
This has grave consequences for the health of women and girls, as global coverage of the first dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is only 15 per cent, despite the first vaccines being licensed over 15 years ago.
It was hoped that 2021 would be a year of recovery during which strained immunization programmes would rebuild and the cohort of children missing in 2020 would be caught-up.
Instead, DTP3 coverage was set back to its lowest level since 2008 which, along with declines in coverage for other basic vaccines, pushed the world off-track to meet global goals, including the immunization indicator for the Sustainable Development Goals.
This historic backsliding in rates of immunization is happening against a backdrop of rapidly rising rates of severe acute malnutrition.
A malnourished child already has weakened immunity and missed vaccinations can mean common childhood illnesses quickly become lethal to them.
The convergence of a hunger crisis with a growing immunization gap threatens to create the conditions for a child survival crisis.
“Planning and tackling Covid-19 should also go hand-in-hand with vaccinating for killer diseases like measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“It’s not a question of either/or, it’s possible to do both”.