A new report by UNICEF reveals that 67 million children worldwide missed basic vaccinations over the past three years, with a drop in vaccination rates recorded in 112 countries. The report, entitled “The State of the World's Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination,” highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems, limited resources, conflicts, and instability, and the decrease in vaccination confidence.
The report warns that vaccine hesitancy may be on the rise due to several factors such as uncertainties related to pandemic management, the spread of misinformation, distrust of expert knowledge, and political polarization.
Despite this decline in vaccination rates, overall support for vaccines remains relatively strong, with over 80% of respondents in almost half of the 55 surveyed countries considering vaccines important for children. However, the report calls for further research to determine if the decrease in trust is indicative of a longer-term trend. The report cautions that the threat of vaccine hesitancy is increasing due to the combined effect of several factors, and if trust in routine vaccinations is not maintained, the next wave of deaths could be from preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria, or other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The pandemic interrupted vaccination programs worldwide, and as a result, the worst setback in children's vaccination rates in 30 years is ongoing. Disruptions were caused by healthcare system overload, redirection of vaccination resources to COVID-19 vaccines, lack of healthcare personnel, and social distancing guidelines. The pandemic has worsened inequality, and children living in poor and remote communities still do not receive vaccinations as they are unavailable or too expensive. Of the 67 million children who missed routine vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, 48 million did not receive any routine vaccinations. Unvaccinated children often live in hard-to-reach communities such as rural areas or urban slums.
To prevent disease outbreaks, action must be taken to increase vaccination coverage. For example, in 2022, the number of measles cases was more than double the previous year. The number of children paralyzed by polio increased by 16% compared to the previous year in 2022. To ensure that every child is vaccinated, primary healthcare must be strengthened, and employees must have the resources and support they need.
UNICEF calls on governments to:
- Urgently identify and reach all children who did not receive vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Strengthen vaccine demand by increasing trust and knowledge of vaccination.
- Ensure that vaccines are available and affordable to everyone.
- Invest in primary healthcare systems and healthcare workers to provide quality services to all children.
In conclusion, the report highlights the urgent need to prioritize routine vaccinations to prevent preventable deaths and disease outbreaks, especially in marginalized communities. It is crucial to rebuild trust in routine vaccinations to ensure that children worldwide receive the basic protection they need to lead healthy lives.
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