COVID-19 Had A Bigger Effect On The Health Of Children Worldwide Than Anyone Knew

Millions of children around the world have missed out on routine vaccinations since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Analyzing immunization data from 2019 to 2021, the report found that 25 million children didn't get fully vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis last year, marking the largest sustained decline in pediatric vaccinations in 30 years (via CNN). There has also been a steep decline in childhood immunizations for polio, measles, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

While all regions were affected, the report revealed that the countries most affected by this drop in vaccine coverage were those in the East Asia and Pacific region. The report attributed the decline to factors such as children living in conflict and not having adequate access to medical care. They added that an increase in misinformation and contention over issues relating to COVID-19, as well as supply chain issues and resource diversion to COVID-19 response efforts, also contributed to this downward trend in pediatric vaccinations across the globe.

Low vaccination rates can lead to outbreaks

"While a pandemic hangover was expected last year as a result of COVID-19 disruptions and lockdowns, what we are seeing now is a continued decline," said Catherine Russell, the executive director of UNICEF, who added that this is a "red alert" for pediatric health (via WHO). That's because a significant decline in life-saving vaccinations could lead to large-scale outbreaks of largely preventable diseases.

As it is, there has already been an increase in cases of polio and measles due to low vaccine coverage rates. Since the WHO suspended polio eradication efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, there have been polio epidemics in at least 30 different countries (via Associated Press).

"This is particularly tragic as tremendous progress was made in the two decades before the COVID pandemic to improve childhood vaccination rates globally," Helen Bedford, a professor of children's health at University College London, told the Associated Press. She noted that vaccination services are often among the first casualties during economic or social disasters.

Much like the rapid global spread of COVID-19 or monkeypox, other disease outbreaks can have a ripple effect and travel across the world. As a result, experts agree that all countries should be doing what they can to prioritize public health and vaccinations, especially when it comes to children.