Hints of progress in immunisation recovery across Europe and Central Asia mask a worrying trend
More work must be done to ensure access to quality immunization services
The largest decline in childhood vaccinations in three decades has been among the many fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic, with potentially dangerous repercussions for children and societies. New data released this week show promising signs of recovery in some countries, including across Europe and Central Asia as countries stepped up immunisation efforts to address the backsliding. The majority of countries in the region have made gains and are progressing towards achieving regional targets.
While there are hints of the trend lines heading in a positive direction among ‘zero-dose’ and under vaccinated’ children in Europe and Central Asia, pre-pandemic vaccination coverage is yet to be achieved. Additionally, more efforts are required to improve measles vaccine coverage.
There has been virtually no progress in decreasing the number of zero-dose children – those who have not received the first dose of diphtheria tetanus and pertussis (DTP1). In 2022, there were 174,000 zero-dose children, just 4,000 less than 178,000 in 2021. Ukraine and Romania are home to the highest proportion of zero-dose children across the region at 53 per cent.
Another concerning trend is declining measles vaccine coverage. In 2022, regional coverage of immunization against the first dose of measles vaccine (MCV1) declined by 1 percentage point to 93 per cent – 2 percentage points below the required coverage rate needed to prevent outbreaks.
In 11 countries in the region, there was an increase in MCV1 coverage. Montenegro, which has the lowest rates of children vaccinated with MCV1, gained 15 percentage points in coverage between 2021 and 2022. Ukraine suffered a decline of 14 percentage points, contributing to the reduction of MCV1 coverage seen in the region.
Regional coverage for the second dose of measles vaccine (MCV2) also declined by 1 percentage point to 92 per cent compared with 2021. The highest decrease in coverage was seen in Ukraine, with a 17-percentage point decline. Montenegro saw a 9-percentage point decline.
The region made some gains in DTP3 coverage with the number of under-vaccinated children – those who haven’t received three doses of the Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis vaccine – reduced by 20,000 between 2021 and 2022.
The war in Ukraine has contributed to little progress in increasing vaccination coverage across the region, inequities and vaccine hesitancy are also to blame.
Efforts are needed to reach every child with vaccines, especially children from marginalised groups including Roma children, children affected by the war in Ukraine, and refugee children across the region. More work must be done to ensure access to quality immunization services and support parents and other caregivers to ensure their children are vaccinated.
Routine immunization is a fundamental pillar of primary healthcare, making it an opportune platform to accelerate progress in other related health sectors in Europe and Central Asia.