“In 2021, we have the potential for outright catastrophe,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO Vaccination Department in Geneva, according to the AFP news agency.
The situation of unprotected children and a too rapid lifting of sanitary restrictions against Covid – which partly cared for some childhood diseases – are already making its effects felt, for example with measles outbreaks in Pakistan, the WHO official stressed.
These two factors combined are “the absolute catastrophe against which we are sounding the alarm now because we need to act immediately to protect those children,” he insisted.
In 2020, 23 million children did not receive the doses of vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, which serve as a reference measure, according to data published this Thursday by the WHO and UNICEF.
It is the highest figure since 2009 and means an increase of 3.7 million children compared to 2019, they added.
According to both UN agencies, it is even more serious that 17 million children – who live mostly in conflict zones, isolated places or very disadvantaged neighborhoods deprived of health infrastructure – did not have a dose last year.
These figures “are a clear alarm signal, the Covid-19 pandemic and the disturbances it has caused have caused us to lose precious ground that we cannot afford to give up and the consequences will be paid in deaths and loss of quality of life of the most vulnerable “, indicated in turn the director of Unicef Henrietta Fore.
The vaccination rate for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough was stagnant at 86% for several years before the pandemic and in 2020 fell to 83%.
In the case of measles, a highly contagious disease that needs a 95% vaccination coverage percentage to be controlled, only 71% of children received the second dose.
Finally, the UN stressed that it is important that the distribution of anticovid vaccines is not done to the detriment of childhood vaccination programs.