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Concern at low immunisation rates

Concern at low immunisation rates

A total of 12.9 million children, nearly one in ten, did not receive any vaccinations in 2016, according to the most recent estimations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF.

According to the organisations, this means that the infants missed the first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP)-containing vaccine, putting them at serious risk of contracting the potentially fatal diseases.

Additionally, an estimated 6.6 million infants who did receive their first dose of DTP-containing vaccine did not complete the full, three dose DTP series (DTP3) in 2016.

Since 2010, the percentage of children who received their full course of routine immunisations has stalled at 86% (116.5 million infants), with no significant changes in any countries or regions during the past year. This falls short of the global immunisation coverage target of 90%.

Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, said: “Most of the children that remain un-immunized are the same ones missed by health systems.

“These children most likely have also not received any of the other basic health services. If we are to raise the bar on global immunization coverage, health services must reach the unreached. Every contact with the health system must be seen as an opportunity to immunize.”

Immunisation currently prevents between 2–3 million deaths every year, from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.

According to the new data, 130 of the 194 WHO Member States have achieved and sustained at least 90% coverage for DTP3 at the national level, one of the targets set out in the Global Vaccine Action Plan.

However, an estimated ten million additional infants need to be vaccinated in 64 countries, if all countries are to achieve at least 90% coverage.

Of these, 7.3 million live in fragile surroundings, including countries affected by conflict. Four million of them live in just three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – where access to routine immunisation services is critical to achieving polio eradication.

In 2016, eight countries had less than 50% coverage with DTP3 in 2016, including Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Ukraine.

Globally, 85% of children have been vaccinated with the first dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services, and 64% with a second dose but coverage levels remain well short of those required to prevent outbreaks.

A total of 152 countries now use rubella vaccines and global coverage increased from 35% in 2010 to 47% in 2016.

Global coverage of more recently-recommended vaccines are yet to reach 50%. These include vaccines against major killers of children such as rotavirus, a disease that causes severe childhood diarrhoea, and pneumonia. Vaccination against both these diseases has the potential to substantially reduce deaths of children under five years of age, a target of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunizations at UNICEF, said: “Bringing life-saving vaccines to the poorest communities, women and children must be considered a top priority in all contexts.”

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