25 April 2020 – As the world waits desperately for a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to surge across the globe. Millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines against measles, diphtheria and polio due to disruptions in immunisation services. At last count, most countries had suspended mass polio campaigns and 25 countries had postponed mass measles campaigns, as per recommended guidance.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, measles, polio and other vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children every year. Over 13 million children globally did not receive any vaccines at all in 2018, many of whom live in countries with weak health systems. Given the current disruptions, this could create pathways to disastrous outbreaks in 2020 and well beyond.
Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director Unicef UK, said:
“Millions of children missing out on routine vaccines is an alarm bell, and risks further outbreaks of life threatening diseases like measles.
“We already know that up to 117 million children could miss out on vaccines due to the global pandemic. This could be averted if urgent action is taken now through global coordination and investment. The UK government must continue to lead this global effort by committing to a fully funded GAVI, given their crucial role in promoting immunisation and strengthening health systems in the poorest countries.”
Globally, an estimated 182 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2018, or 20.3 million children a year on average, according to a UNICEF analysis. This is because the global coverage of the first dose of measles stands only at 86 per cent, well below the 95 per cent needed to prevent measles outbreaks.
New figures released today highlight how it’s not just the world’s poorest countries at risk from a measles outbreak. Vaccination rates have fallen a worrying amount in high income countries consistently, with 585,000 children in the UK not having received their first measles vaccine dose.
|Top ten high-income countries where children not vaccinated with the first measles vaccine dose 2010 – 2018|
|1. United States: 2,868,000|
|2. France: 680,000|
|3. United Kingdom:585,000|
|4. Italy: 482,000|
|5. Japan: 386,000|
|6. Canada: 363,000|
|7. Germany: 195,000|
|8. Australia: 155,000|
|9. Chile: 155,000|
|10. Spain: 141,000|
The UK lost its measles free status in 2019 after failing to reach 95% herd immunity, with almost one in eight children (12%) in the UK in 2018 having not received both measles doses. Unicef UK warns that the coronavirus pandemic is threatening children’s access to vaccines in the UK even further.
“The UK is already at risk of a measles outbreak. In the current health crisis, disruptions to routine vaccine services will increase the risk of children contracting measles – we’re hearing that UK parents are struggling to find the right information on how to safely vaccinate their children.
“It’s vital that parents and health practitioners are given the support and information they need to ensure children get the right vaccines. This will not only save the lives of children, but also relieve the burden on health services in post-pandemic Britain.”
Among low-income countries, the gaps in measles coverage before COVID-19 were already alarming. Between 2010 and 2018, Ethiopia had the highest number of children under one year of age who missed out on the first dose of measles, at nearly 10.9 million. It was followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (6.2 million), Afghanistan (3.8 million), Chad, Madagascar and Uganda with about 2.7 million each.
“The stakes have never been higher. As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, our life-saving work to provide children with vaccines is critical,” said Robin Nandy, UNICEF Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunization. “With disruptions in immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fates of millions of young lives hang in the balance.”
Beyond measles, the immunization gaps were already quite dire, according to new regional profiles developed by UNICEF. In Africa, more children have missed out on vaccines over the past years due to rising number of births and a stagnation in immunization services. For example, in West and Central Africa, coverage has stagnated at 70 per cent for DTP3 – which is the lowest among all regions – at 71 per cent for polio, and at 70 per cent for measles. This has led to repeated outbreaks of measles and polio in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Meanwhile, in South Asia, an estimated 3.2 million children did not receive any vaccines in 2018. In Eastern and Southern Africa, the number of unvaccinated children has remained almost the same for the last decade, at around 2 million. All regions are now also battling COVID-19 outbreaks.
UNICEF is sending critical vaccine supplies to immunize children, where possible, in areas with outbreaks and to replenish their routine supplies. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, UNICEF is supporting the Government with vaccine supplies and protective equipment to continue immunization activities in North Kivu province, where over 3,000 cases of measles were reported since 1 January. And in Uganda, UNICEF procured 3,842,000 doses of bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to immunize 900,000 children below the age of one year. Children receive three doses of the polio vaccine before they celebrate their first birthday.
- Sustain immunization services while keeping health workers and communities safe;
- Start planning to ramp up vaccinations for every missed child when the pandemic ends;
- Fully replenish Gavi, as the alliance supports immunization programmes in the future;
- Ensure that when the COVID-19 vaccine is available, it reaches those most in need.
“Children missing out now on vaccines must not go their whole lives without protection from disease,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance “The legacy of COVID-19 must not include the global resurgence of other killers like measles and polio.”
Notes to Editors:
Photos, b-roll and regional profiles are available here.
About the Analysis
The analysis is based on UNICEF and WHO’s estimation of national immunization coverage of 194 countries and the State of Palestine for 2018. After 00.01 GMT 25 April, read the regional profiles here including for West and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific.
About World Immunization Week
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook
For more information, please contact:
Yemi Lufadeju, Unicef UK, T: 07391017115, E: YemiL@unicef.org.uk