RELIEF – For the UN, the situation is catastrophic. In many countries, the fight against Covid-19 has completely erased the fight against serious childhood illnesses, running the risk of new epidemics. Like the WHO, she insists on the importance of vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in particular.

As many countries focus on vaccination against Covid-19, immunization against other diseases is declining. This Thursday, the UN warns of a risk of “absolute disaster” if the dangerous delay in the vaccination of children due to the pandemic is not made up for.

In 2020, 23 million children fell through the cracks and did not receive all three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine or DTP3, which serves as a baseline measure, according to published figures. Thursday by WHO and Unicef. This is the highest number since 2009 and it affects 3.7 million more children than in 2019. Even more serious in the eyes of the two agencies, 17 million children – most of whom live in either areas. conflict, remote places or slums deprived of health infrastructure – arguably had no dose in the last year.

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Covid-19: the challenge of vaccination

The consequences will be paid in death and loss of quality of life for the most vulnerable.– Henrietta Fore, director of Unicef

This numbers “are a clear alarm signal, the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruptions it has caused have caused us to lose precious ground that we cannot afford to give up and the consequences will be paid in death and loss of life. quality of life of the most vulnerable “, insisted the director of Unicef ​​Henrietta Fore, recalling that the “pandemic has further degraded a situation which was already bad”.

The DTP3 vaccination rate remained stuck at 86% for several years before the pandemic and in 2020 it fell to just 83%. In the case of measles, a highly contagious disease requiring a vaccination coverage rate of 95% to be well controlled, only 71% of children received the second dose.

Resources and personnel diverted and health restrictions lifted too quickly

The pandemic has forced resources and personnel to be diverted to the fight against Covid and many healthcare services have had to close or reduce their hours. People were also reluctant to move for fear of contamination, when containment measures did not prohibit them.

Unprotected children and too rapid lifting of health restrictions against Covid – which also partially protected against certain childhood diseases – are already having their effects, with for example measles rashes in Pakistan, underlined Dr. Kate O’Brien , Director of the Immunization Department at the World Health Organization in Geneva. These two factors combined are “the absolute catastrophe we are sounding the alarm against now because we need to act now to protect these children”, she hammered.

India, Pakistan and the Philippines very affected by the delay in vaccination

Southeast Asia was badly affected by the disruption caused by the pandemic, and DPT3 coverage rate fell from 91% to 85% in 2020 in India, which had the highest number of under-immunized children or not vaccinated at all last year: 3.5 million. Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines have also seen the number of unprotected children increase.

The Americas region, for its part, has “worrying long-term trend” although the decline linked to the pandemic has been modest (2 percentage points less than in 2019). “Fueled by lack of funding, misinformation about vaccines, instability and other factors form a worrying picture” in the region where “the vaccination rate continues to fall”, note the two agencies. Only 82% of children are fully immunized with the DTP vaccine, while this coverage rate was still 91% in 2016.

Mexico is among the countries where the number of children not covered by a first dose of DTP has increased the fastest, from 348,000 in 2019 to 454,000 last year. The Eastern Mediterranean region, which had seen the most spectacular fall in terms of immunization, was able to catch up with part of the ground.

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The UN stresses that it is important that the distribution of anti-Covid vaccines does not come at the expense of childhood vaccination programs. “As countries cry out to get their hands on Covid vaccines, we have backed down on other vaccinations, putting children at risk of catching serious but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis.”, recalled the Director General of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Several epidemics would be a disaster for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making the need to invest in childhood immunization more urgent than ever”.

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