Childhood immunization begins recovery after COVID-19 backslide

"Children receiving vaccinations during The Big Catch-Up global initiative"

The fight to improve global immunization coverage received a positive boost in 2022 with an additional 4 million children receiving vaccinations compared to the previous year. This comes as a much-needed reprieve following the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immunization efforts worldwide.

According to the latest data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the number of children missing out on crucial vaccinations through routine immunization services dropped to 20.5 million in 2022, from 24.4 million in 2021. However, this number is still higher than the 18.4 million children recorded in 2019, emphasizing the ongoing need for catch-up and system strengthening efforts.

A vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP), considered a global marker for immunization coverage, indicated that 14.3 million children did not receive a single dose in 2022, an improvement from 18.1 million in 2021 but higher than the 12.9 million children in 2019.

Despite these improvements, global immunization recovery has not been evenly distributed. Wealthier countries with larger infant populations like India and Indonesia demonstrated greater progress, masking slower recovery or even continued declines in low-income countries, particularly regarding measles vaccinations.

Crucially, while some countries have shown signs of recovery, 34 out of 73 countries that experienced a significant decline in coverage during the pandemic have either stagnated or continued to see a decline.

One of the most critical concerns is the slow recovery of measles vaccinations, which put an additional 35.2 million children at risk of infection in 2022. Last year, 21.9 million children missed the routine measles vaccination in their first year of life – 2.7 million more than in 2019.

“These data are encouraging and a tribute to those who have worked so hard to restore life-saving immunization services after two years of sustained decline in immunization coverage,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But global and regional averages don’t tell the whole story and mask severe and persistent inequities.”

In the face of these challenges, efforts continue to increase immunization coverage and expedite the recovery of vaccination programs. Recently, WHO and UNICEF, together with Gavi, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other IA2030 partners, launched a global initiative known as ‘The Big Catch-Up’. This program aims to restore and strengthen immunization services disrupted by the pandemic, using strategies such as securing increased financing for immunization and developing policies to reach children born during the pandemic who have missed routine immunization schedules.

Despite these hurdles, there’s hope for global health. With such concerted efforts to boost immunization worldwide, our future generations will be better protected against preventable diseases.


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