Monday, July 15, 2024

Large outbreaks of diseases, which predominantly affect children, are spreading globally, a dire repercussion of disruptions to health systems due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more than 60 million children not receiving any standard childhood vaccines. By mid 2023, 47 countries had reported serious measles outbreaks, a steep increase from the 16 countries in June 2020. Nigeria, for instance, is currently grappling with the largest diphtheria outbreak in its history, with over 17,000 suspected cases and nearly 600 deaths so far. Twelve countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, have reported circulating polio virus.

The children who missed receiving their shots have aged out of routine immunization programs, accounting for nearly half of all child deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses. Additionally, 85 million children are under-immunized due to the pandemic, receiving only a portion of the standard course of vaccines required for full protection from certain diseases. The consequences of failure have become evident, with deaths from measles escalating by 43 percent to 136,200 in 2022 compared to the previous year.

UNICEF, which funds vaccination in low- and middle-income countries, is pushing for an investment of $350 million from Gavi to procure vaccines, aiming to reach the children who were missed. The organization is advocating for countries to implement a catch-up vaccination blitz targeted at children aged 1 to 4 who failed to receive their shots. UNICEF is also urging developing countries to gear up and deliver the vaccines to those children, training personnel and procuring and distributing the essential vaccines.

UNICEF is seeking to contend with misinformation campaigns and hesitancy around childhood immunizations, emphasizing the need to restore trust in official guidance and protection through vaccines, particularly within communities at the greatest risk.

Major challenges remain, as getting back on track requires reaching children who missed their vaccinations between 2020 and 2022. Despite strides made in restoring vaccination coverage in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia, many countries have yet to reach previous levels, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan facing the greatest hurdles. Compounding these challenges are conflicts, climate refugees, and fragile health systems.

This urgent situation requires countries to invest the necessary time and resources to restore immunization systems and launch catch-up campaigns to help those children who were missed. There is a need for a renewed commitment to strengthening immunization, restoring demand and trust, and ensuring access to routine vaccines for all children.

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