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WHO Warns Unprotected Children Share Rising In Middle-Income Countries

Over 3 million children in India missed the first dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis combined vaccine in 2020.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that more than three million children in India did not get their first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis combined vaccine (DTP-1) in 2020. 

While more than 3 million children missed their first dose of measles, compared to 2019, 3.5 million more children could not receive their first dose of the DTP-1 across the globe.

The DTP-1 is a class of combination vaccines against three infectious diseases in humans: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. 

India has witnessed the greatest increase in the number of children not getting DPT 1 first last year as compared to 2019, according to official data published on July 15 by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said.

As many as 3,038,000 children in India did not get the first dose of DTP-1 in 2020 compared to 1,403,000 in 2019. 

“The data shows that middle-income countries now account for an increasing share of unprotected children — that is, children missing out on at least some vaccine doses. India is experiencing a substantial drop, with DTP-3 coverage falling from 91 percent to 85 percent,” said the World Health Organization in a statement. 

Around 23 million children missed out on basic vaccines through routine immunization services in 2020 worldwide as the pandemic impacted the childhood immunization process around the world.

Up to 17 million children did not receive a single vaccine during the year, widening already immense inequities in vaccine access. With many resources and personnel diverted to support the Covid-19 response, there have been significant disruptions to immunization service provision in many parts of the world.

“These are alarming numbers, suggesting the pandemic is unraveling years of progress in routine immunization and exposing millions of children to deadly, preventable diseases,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. It is a public-private global health partnership to increase access to immunization in developing countries.

In some countries, clinics have been closed or hours reduced. In contrast, people may have been reluctant to seek healthcare because of fear of transmission or have experienced challenges reaching services due to lockdown measures and transportation disruptions.

“Even as countries clamor to get their hands on Covid-19 vaccines, we have gone backward on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio, or meningitis,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

“Multiple disease outbreaks would be catastrophic for communities and health systems already battling Covid-19, making it more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccination and ensure every child is reached,” he said. 

“This evidence should be a clear warning — the Covid-19 pandemic and related disruptions cost us valuable ground we cannot afford to lose — and the consequences will be paid in the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director, UNICEF.

Most of these children live in communities affected by conflict, in under-served remote places, or informal or slum settings. They face multiple deprivations, including limited access to basic health and key social services.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Ritaban Misra)