The COVID-19 crisis helped fuel the largest continuous decline in global childhood vaccinations in three decades from 2019 to 2021, according to new data released Thursday (July 14) by the WHO and UNICEF, which called the numbers a “red alert for child health.”
Roughly 25 million children in 2021 alone missed one or more doses of a vaccine called DPT—it combats diphtheria (a severe bacterial infection), tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)—up from 2 million who missed one or more doses in 2020 and 6 million from 2019.
Only 15% of children around the world have had the first dose of the human papillomavirus vaccine. The share of eligible children who had the first dose of the measles vaccines dropped to 81% in 2021.
The consequences of the drop in vaccinations “will be measured in lives,” warned UNICEF’s Executive Director Catherine Russell in a statement, adding the problem could lead to more outbreaks of preventable diseases, more sick children and “greater pressure on already strained health systems.”