‘Alarming’ decline in vaccination rates

The decline in vaccination rates has been described as alarming and governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have been called on to strengthen and re-establish necessary programmes.

According to data from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and UNICEF, in five years, the complete vaccination schedule for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped from 90 per cent in 2015 to 76 per cent in 2020.

“This implies that one in four children in the region has not received the full schedule needed to protect them from multiple potentially life-threatening diseases.”

The statement said that while there was a negative trend in vaccination coverage prior to the pandemic, a disruption of essential health services and the fear of catching COVID-19 at a vaccination spot, have left children without some of the most basic vaccines.

“The decline in vaccination rates in the region is alarming and puts millions of children and adolescents at risk of dangerous yet preventable diseases,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean.

“The solution to this issue lies within the strengthening of immunisation programmes and overall health systems.”

The 14 percentage point drop in vaccine coverage leaves nearly 2.5 million children without the complete DTP vaccination schedule. Of them, 1.5 million are “zero doses”.

Dangerous setback

The media release warned that the more children are missed out, the easier it becomes for contagious pathogens to spread. Pockets of under and unimmunisation communities can then lead to outbreaks.

While in 2013 only five cases of diphtheria were reported in the region, this number has jumped to almost 900 cases in 2018, respectively, according to PAHO data.

Measles sets higher alarms because it is caused by a highly contagious virus: in 2013 there were almost 500 cases; but in 2019, more than 23 000 people got the disease.

“As countries recover from the pandemic, immediate actions are needed to prevent coverage rates from further dropping, because the re-emergence of disease outbreaks poses a serious risk to all of society,” Gough said.

“This is an opportunity to restructure primary health care and reinforce the comprehensive and community approach that bring vaccines to the most vulnerable populations. We cannot lose the efforts of past decades and let dangerous diseases threaten the lives of children.”

UNICEF calls on governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to urgently strengthen or re-establish routine immunisation programmes, develop campaigns to increase vaccine confidence and implement plans to reach all children and adolescents and their families with vaccination services; especially to the most vulnerable who do not have access to health services, due to their geographic location, migratory status or ethnic identity. (UNICEF)

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