Africa is experiencing a “child survival crisis” after 12.7 million children missed taking one or more vaccinations from 2019-2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund said on Wednesday.

The Associated Press said UNICEF called this crisis “the worst regression of childhood vaccination in 30 years.”

The UNICEF press release about the report said the lack of vaccinated children makes the continent more susceptible to disease outbreaks, an effect they’re already experiencing after 700 children died from measles last year in Zimbabwe and more than 1,000 people died from a cholera outbreak earlier this year in Malawi.

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The report said Africa has the most unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children in the world, with 8.7 million of them called “zero-dose” children after never having received any vaccinations between 2019-2021.

Two out of five zero-dose children in Africa live in Ethiopia or Nigeria, making them the countries with the highest number of zero-dose children, according to UNICEF.

Reversing the crisis

The World Health Organization predicts Africa needs about 33 million children vaccinated by 2025 in order to recover from the setback and get back on track, according to The Associated Press.

ABC News said, “UNICEF noted that children born just before or during the pandemic were now moving past the age when they would normally be vaccinated and stressed the need for health authorities to ‘catch up’ with those missed vaccinations to prevent more deadly disease outbreaks.”

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UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier said in the report, “We must act urgently to make sure that every child who has been left out is vaccinated. Using routine immunization as an entry point to strengthen primary health care and community systems will also help deliver other essential services, so that together with governments and partners, we can address multiple child deprivations and accelerate progress for children.”

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“The recent resurgence of measles, cholera and poliovirus in Africa is a warning that we need to step up our efforts. African leaders must act now and take strong political action to reduce the gap in vaccination and make sure that all children are immunized and protected,” Mohamed M. Fall, UNICEF regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said in the report.

Global effect

The report said globally, vaccination coverage levels dropped in 112 countries, with a total of 67 million children missing one or more vaccines between 2019-2021.

The UNICEF said different contributors to the missed vaccinations worldwide included:

  • Climate change.
  • Health worker shortages.
  • Vaccine hesitancy.

The report said solutions for the crisis include using effective immunization programs and catch-up campaigns to vaccinate children, building resilient health systems and investing in immunizations and health.

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