GENEVA – Expressing deep concerns over a decline in confidence in childhood vaccines, the United Nations (UN) said public perception of the importance of childhood vaccines has declined across Europe and Central Asia since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A new report by UNICEF on Thursday said the confidence decline comes during the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunization in 30 years.
The new analysis of data from the UN children's agency, UNICEF, in 55 countries worldwide – 29 of which are in Europe and Central Asia – is featured in the new report.
The State of the World's Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination is the most comprehensive assessment of routine immunization ever produced by UNICEF.
“The decline in confidence in childhood vaccines is deeply concerning. Immunization is one of humanity's most remarkable success stories,” said Philippe Cori, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The report notes that in the 29 countries in Europe and Central Asia featured in the analysis, the perception of the importance of vaccines for children has declined by more than 10 percentage points.
In most of the countries analyzed, people under 35 years old and women were most likely to have reported less confidence in childhood vaccines.
The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted childhood vaccination almost everywhere.
The interruption was due primarily to intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunization resources to Covid-19 vaccination, health worker shortages, and stay-at-home measures.
As a result, 67 million children globally missed routine vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries.
Nearly one million children who missed one or several routine vaccinations live in Europe and Central Asia.
Among whom, 327,400 are "zero-dose" – children who have not received any vaccinations – and "under-vaccinated" children – those who have not received the third required dose of the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT3) vaccine – critical markers in immunization coverage.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Macedonia, and Ukraine have among the region's highest rates of zero-dose children.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, Romania, and Ukraine have the highest rates of under-vaccinated children.
The pandemic also exacerbated existing inequities, says the report.
Vast gaps in immunization coverage exist among Roma children, one of Europe's largest and most marginalized minority groups.
UNICEF is urging governments to double their commitment to increase financing for immunization.
It calls on them to work with stakeholders to unlock available resources, including leftover Covid-19 funds, to urgently implement and accelerate catch-up vaccination efforts to protect children and prevent disease outbreaks.
The UN agency calls on governments to urgently identify and reach all children, especially those who missed vaccinations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, they should strengthen confidence in and demand for vaccines, including by working closely with communities to address their vaccination needs and concerns. (Anadolu)