Following years of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an encouraging rise in global immunization coverage. According to recently published data by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, immunization services reached 4 million more children in 2022 compared to the previous year.
In spite of the strides made, there were still 20.5 million children in 2022 who missed one or more vaccines delivered through routine immunization services. This figure is lower than the 24.4 million children reported in 2021 but still higher than the 18.4 million from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, indicating a persistent need for catch-up immunization programs and recovery efforts.
The Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP) vaccine is often used as a benchmark for immunization coverage worldwide. It revealed that the number of zero-dose children (children who received no doses) has reduced from 18.1 million in 2021 to 14.3 million in 2022. However, this figure still surpasses the 12.9 million children reported in 2019.
“The early stages of recovery in global immunization have not occurred equally, with the improvement concentrated in a few countries,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “When countries and regions lag, children pay the price.”
Notably, wealthier nations such as India and Indonesia with large infant populations have made significant strides in their recovery, overshadowing the slower progress or continued decline in low-income countries. Particularly worrying is the state of measles vaccination which has not recovered at the same pace as other immunization programs, leaving an additional 35.2 million children vulnerable to measles infection.
Progress, however, is being made. Fifteen of the 73 countries that experienced significant declines in coverage during the pandemic have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and another 24 are on the route to recovery.
In a bid to expedite recovery in immunization rates, a global campaign named ‘The Big Catch-Up’ was launched earlier this year by WHO and UNICEF, in collaboration with Gavi, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other IA2030 partners. This campaign is designed to restore and strengthen immunization services and ensure every child gets the vaccines they need.
It’s a long road to full recovery, but each step brings us closer to achieving global immunization coverage that will protect our future generations from preventable diseases.