Updated: July 15, 2021 8:06:33 pm
Global and regional estimates of Covid-19’s impact on routine childhood immunisation indicate unparalleled disruptions in delivery of vaccines against measles (MCV1) and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) (DTP3) – with 2020 coverage likely falling in some regions to levels not seen in over a decade.
The pandemic may have resulted in the largest and most widespread global disruption to life-saving immunisation programmes in history, putting millions of children—in rich and poor countries alike — at risk of measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), according to a new modelling study published in The Lancet on Thursday.
An estimated 8.5 million third doses of DTP vaccine and 8.9 million first doses of measles vaccine were not given to children worldwide in 2020 — a relative decline of more than 7 per cent over expected coverage levels had the Covid-19 pandemic not broken out (83 per cent expected global coverage vs 77 per cent estimated due to pandemic disruption for third dose of DTP and 86 per cent vs 79 per cent for first dose measles vaccine).
Estimates suggest that twice as many children as expected may have missed doses of each vaccine due to pandemic disruptions in high income countries in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
Although child vaccination rates improved in later months of 2020, catch-up efforts are lagging and researchers warn that the world may face a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases unless a concerted effort is made to get routine immunisation services back on track.
Measles, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are four vaccine-preventable childhood diseases targeted by immunisation programmes around the world with measles claiming the lives of over 207,000 people in 2019.
Previous studies have demonstrated the short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on childhood vaccine delivery and disease burden in specific locations and/or time periods only.
To address this, researchers used country-reported data and electronic medical records on vaccine administration to estimate the pandemic’s impact on global and regional vaccine doses delivered and coverage for MCV1 and DTP3 during each month in 2020. They built a model using daily human movement data captured through anonymised tracking of mobile phones in 134 countries to generate projections and estimate disruption to vaccine delivery in 100 countries where monthly vaccine administration data were not available.
The researchers also modelled the number of doses expected to be given in 2020 had the pandemic not broken out. By comparing the estimated number of doses given during the pandemic to the number expected in 2020 without the pandemic, they estimated the number of additional children who missed routine doses throughout 2020 attributable to Covid-19.
The findings suggest that South Asia was the most acutely affected region in 2020 with an estimated 3.6 million doses of DTP3 and 2.2 million doses of MCV1 vaccine missed by eligible children due to the pandemic — almost twice as many as expected. Regional coverage of DTP3 was estimated to have fallen by 13 per cent and MCV1 by 4 per cent, relative to expected levels.
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