A mother kisses her daughter at a regularly scheduled, UNICEF-supported immunization clinic in the village of Kuka on the outskirts of Beni in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo on 21 October 2019. Despite the recent Ebola outbreak and its toll on the community, 80 children have shown up to receive vaccines against a number of diseases, including polio, yellow fever, tetanus and diphtheria. UNICEF provides the vaccines, cold storage and transport for the health workers, in addition to logistical and technical support.

WHO and UNICEF warn of alarming decline in vaccinations worldwide during Coronavirus pandemic

New data shows that vaccine coverage stalled at 85 per cent for nearly a decade even before the pandemic

Home > Media Contacts and Press Releases > WHO and UNICEF warn of alarming decline in vaccinations worldwide during Coronavirus pandemic

15 July 2020 – The World Health Organization and UNICEF warned today of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving lifesaving vaccines. This is due to disruptions in delivery and uptake of immunisation services across the world caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

According to new data, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress – to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been hampered by a decade of stalling coverage.

Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director, Unicef UK said:

“The world cannot stand by and watch as 6,000 more children a day die from preventable diseases like measles and diphtheria. History will not look kindly on this generation of leaders if they do not prioritise child and maternal health at a time of global crisis.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said:

“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunized than ever before. But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programmes continue.”

Latest figures on vaccine coverage estimates from WHO and UNICEF for 2019 show that progress made on the delivery of the HPV vaccine to 106 countries and efforts towards protecting children from more diseases are in danger of lapsing. For example, preliminary data for the first four months of 2020 points to a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3). This is the first time in 28 years that the world could see a reduction in DTP3 coverage – the marker for immunization coverage within and across countries.

“UNICEF is committed to delivering lifesaving vaccines and supporting governments with weak health systems to ensure that progress made in lowering maternal and child mortality rates are not lost, but we cannot do this alone,” Deshmukh added.

“Governments must prioritise children’s health in their pandemic response plans – and the search for a new Coronavirus vaccine should not come at the expense of ensuring children receive existing immunizations that save lives every day.”

While the world reels from this global health crisis, and ahead of a merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,  Unicef UK is urging the UK Government to prioritise child and maternal health in their Coronavirus response and commit to safeguarding funding for vital interventions which prevent child and maternal mortality globally.

Deshmukh said: “The UK government has made great strides in ensuring child health remains high on the agenda, but they must not lose momentum at this critical time. We urge the Government to continue to invest in a response that matches the scale of the global challenge and ensure the lives of a generation of children are not marred by the impact of Coronavirus.”

The issues facing children’s vaccinations, as highlighted by this new data, include:
COVID-19 disruptions

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond. According to a new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey,  conducted in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, three quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunization programmes as of May 2020.

The reasons for disrupted services vary. Even when services are offered, people are either unable to access them because of reluctance to leave home, transport interruptions, economic hardships, restrictions on movement, or fear of being exposed to people with COVID-19. Many health workers are also unavailable because of restrictions on travel or redeployment to COVID response duties as well as a lack of protective equipment.

Stagnating global coverage rate 

Progress on immunization coverage was stalling before COVID-19 hit, at 85 per cent for DTP3 and measles vaccines. The likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time she reaches the age of 5 is less than 20 per cent.

In 2019, nearly 14 million children missed out on life-saving vaccines such as measles and DTP3. Most of these children live in Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services. Two-thirds of them are concentrated in 10 middle- and low-income countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Philippines. Children in middle-income countries account for an increasing share of the burden.

Progress and challenges, by country and region

There has been some progress. Regional coverage for the third dose of DTP in South Asia has increased by 12 percentage points over the last 10 years, notably across India, Nepal and Pakistan. However, that hard-won progress could be undone by COVID-19 related disruptions. Countries that had recorded significant progress, such as Ethiopia and Pakistan, are now also at risk of backsliding if immunization services are not restored as soon as feasible.

The situation is especially concerning for Latin America and the Caribbean, where historically high coverage has slipped over the last decade. In Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela, immunization coverage plummeted by at least 14 percentage points since 2010. These countries are now also confronting moderate to severe COVID19-related disruptions.

As the global health community attempts to recover lost ground due to COVID-19 related disruptions, UNICEF and WHO are supporting countries in their efforts to reimagine immunization and build back better by:

  • Restoring services so countries can safely deliver routine immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic, by adhering to hygiene and physical distancing recommendations and providing protective equipment to health workers;
  • Helping health workerscommunicate actively with caregivers to explain how services have been reconfigured to ensure safety;
  • Rectifying coverage and immunity gaps; 
  • Expanding routine services to reach missed communities, where some of the most vulnerable children live.

Unicef UK’s Save Generation Covid appeal is supporting children and families impacted by Coronavirus across the world, including ensuring access to vital vaccines. To help #GenerationCovid visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate.

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Notes to editors

Download photos, the report, data files and b-roll from UNICEF here or from WHO here. After 2pm CET 15 July, read the analysis of the data in this report, Are we losing ground? or browse the full vaccine coverage datasets from UNICEF or at WHO’s webpage.  Review presentation and graphs related to the data here.

About the data

2019 IMMUNIZATION COVERAGE ESTIMATES

Every year, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) produce a new round of immunization coverage estimates for 195 countries, enabling a critical assessment of how well we are doing in reaching every child with life-saving vaccines.  In addition to producing the immunization coverage estimates for 2019, the WHO and UNICEF estimation process revises the entire historical series of immunization data with the latest available information. The 2019 revision covers 39 years of coverage estimates, from 1980 to 2019. DTP3 coverage is used as an indicator to assess the proportion of children vaccinated and is calculated for children under one year of age. The estimated number of vaccinated children are calculated using population data provided by the 2019 World Population Prospects (WPP) from the UN. Fact sheet.
IMMUNIZATION PULSE SURVEY, JUNE 2020

The new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey was conducted in collaboration with US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in June 2020. Respondents from 82 countries, including 14 with lower than 80 per cent vaccination coverage rates in 2019, reported on disruptions in immunization services due to COVID-19 as of May 2020.  The online immunization pulse survey received responses from 260 immunization experts, including representatives of Ministries of Health, academia and global health organizations across 82 countries. A previous pulse poll, conducted in April received 801 responses from 107 countries, showed that disruption to the routine immunization programs were already widespread and affected all regions. 64 per cent of countries represented in that poll indicated that routine immunizations had been disrupted or even suspended.

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and wellbeing. For updates on COVID-19 and public health advice to protect yourself from coronavirus, visit www.who.int and follow WHO on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInTikTokPinterestSnapchatYouTube.

More on vaccines and immunization

Guiding principles for immunization activities during the COVID-19

How WHO is supporting ongoing vaccination efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic

The vaccines success story gives us hope for the future

About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

For more information please visit unicef.org.uk

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  • The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since World War Two.
  • Children’s lives are being upended. Their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations lost, their food supply cut off.
  • An additional 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services like vaccinations. That’s one every 15 seconds.
  • UNICEF’s “Save Generation Covid” appeal is the largest ever for children in our 73-year history, and we urgently need funds for lifesaving support and services to ensure that children survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.

Together we can Save Generation Covid. Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help save #generationcovid.

For more information, please contact:

Yemi Lufadeju, T: +44 20 7375 6199 E: YemiL@unicef.org.uk

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk