The pandemic was a severe blow to global efforts to immunize children against diseases such as measles and polio, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, and reduced global coverage of some vaccines to levels that have been in place for more than a decade was no longer seen.
The proportion of eligible children who received a polio vaccine fell from 86 percent in the previous year to 83 percent in 2020, as did coverage with the third dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine known as DTP3. Measles vaccine coverage also fell slightly, from 86 percent in 2019 to 84 percent last year.
These seemingly minor setbacks resulted in millions more children missing routine vaccinations during the pandemic, putting them and their communities at risk.
Globally, nearly 23 million children targeted for DTP3 vaccination were not vaccinated in 2020, compared to 19 million in 2019, the CDC said. The vast majority of them had not received a single dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. Coverage with this vaccine hadn’t been this low since 2009.
The CDC scientists involved in the report called for measures to close the immunity gaps of preventable diseases in countries already plagued by Covid outbreaks. World Health Organization and UNICEF scientists were also co-authors of the study.
The decline in vaccinations follows a decade of stagnant vaccination levels. In 2019, the number of measles deaths rose to its highest level in 23 years, a result of what public health experts called inadequate vaccination coverage. Scientists said the pandemic has hampered tracking of measles outbreaks.
The pandemic also disrupted vaccination programs, the CDC report said, cutting supplies of basic vaccines and making them difficult to administer.
Vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles are lowest in much of Africa, the report said. The WHO also announced on Thursday that only five of the 54 African nations are expected to reach the end of the year to vaccinate 40 percent of their population against Covid. UNICEF, a United Nations agency working on the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, warned of a shortage of syringes for both Covid and routine vaccinations over the next year.