Dhe consequences of the pandemic are far-reaching – one could be that other viruses, which humanity has long believed to be masters, will circulate more strongly again. Various organizations are now warning of just such a flare-up of infections for the polio and measles viruses.
The UN children’s fund Unicef drew attention in a report last week to the fact that around 67 million children in the years 2019 to 2021 were completely or partially missing out on routine vaccinations. The causes were the lockdowns and disabilities in health care during the pandemic. The report also finds a decline in confidence in children’s immunizations.
“More than a decade of hard-won advances in routine childhood immunizations have been undermined,” the report said. Getting children back on track with vaccinations will be a “difficult” task.
According to the report, vaccination coverage for children fell in 112 countries and fell by five percentage points globally to 81 percent – the lowest level since 2008. Africa and southern Asia are particularly hard hit by this vaccination undersupply in children.
The proportion of children vaccinated against measles worldwide also fell from 86 percent to 81 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to the report. “Vaccinations have played a really important role in helping more children live healthy, long lives,” said the report’s senior editor, Brian Keeley. “Any decrease in vaccination coverage is worrying.”
According to the report, confidence in child immunization fell in a large majority of the countries surveyed: Awareness of the importance of immunization declined in 52 out of 55 countries. In most countries, people under the age of 35 and women in particular reported that their confidence in routine childhood vaccinations had tended to decline since the start of the pandemic.
The European disease control agency ECDC also comments on the relapse in child vaccinations, but stretches the timeline further. Between 2012 and 2021, around 2.4 million children in Europe were not vaccinated with polio, the agency said. Unvaccinated subpopulations can become a real problem.
regression in eradication
Europe was declared polio-free in 2022, and thanks to the regular vaccination campaign, the virus that causes polio was hardly able to infect people. In other regions of the world, however, it still circulates both in the wild form and in the form of vaccine viruses. The disease always occurs isolated or even in smaller outbreaks. If viruses are imported into Europe from such countries and accidentally end up in an unvaccinated population, infections and diseases can occur here again. ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said: “As long as there are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated groups, the risk of reintroduction into Europe remains.” This also applies to measles, a virus that is also extremely contagious. Outbreaks can occur that put a strain on healthcare systems,” Ammon says, “even in countries where measles has already been eliminated.” ECDC emphasizes that the 99 per cent drop in measles cases reported in 2022 was due less to good vaccination coverage and more to Covid prevention efforts.
The health organizations WHO, Unicef and the vaccination alliance Gavi, which is supported by Bill & Melinda Gates, and other international and national vaccination organizations have launched the initiative “The Big Catch-up” this week because of the regression in immunization. The aim is to quickly close the child vaccination gaps caused by the pandemic. Diseases such as measles, polio, yellow fever and diphtheria are the focus of the campaign.
The initiative says it is focusing on the twenty countries where two-thirds of the children who have not been vaccinated during the Covid pandemic live.