Confidence in childhood vaccines declines across Europe and Central Asia – new UNICEF report
Nearly one million children across Europe and Central Asia missed one or several routine vaccinations since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
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NEW YORK, 20 April 2023 – The public perception of the importance of childhood vaccines has declined across Europe and Central Asia since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis of data from 55 countries worldwide – 29 of which are in Europe and Central Asia. The analysis is featured in a new report published today by UNICEF.
The State of the World’s Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination is the most comprehensive assessment of routine immunization ever produced by UNICEF. It 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 the majority of countries analysed, people under 35-years-old and women were most likely to have reported less confidence in childhood vaccines.
“The decline in confidence in childhood vaccines is deeply concerning. Immunization is one of humanity’s most remarkable success stories. Too many lives are at stake to let it fall prey to a wave of fear and misinformation fuelled by the pandemic.”
“The decline in confidence in childhood vaccines is deeply concerning. Immunization is one of humanity’s most remarkable success stories. Too many lives are at stake to let it fall prey to a wave of fear and misinformation fuelled by the pandemic,” said Philippe Cori, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The decline in confidence comes amid the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunisation in 30 years. The pandemic interrupted childhood vaccination almost everywhere, largely due 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 out on routine vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries.
Nearly one million of 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 highest rates of zero-dose children in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, Romania and Ukraine have among the highest rates of under-vaccinated children.
The pandemic also exacerbated existing inequities. Vast gaps in immunization coverage exist among Roma children, one of Europe’s largest and most marginalised minority groups.
UNICEF is calling on governments to double-down on their commitment to increase financing for immunization and 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 report features a set of recommendations for governments including:
- Urgently identify and reach all children, especially those who missed vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Strengthen confidence in and demand for vaccines, including by working closely with communities to address their vaccination needs and concerns
- Prioritise funding to immunization services and primary health care
- Build resilient health systems through investment in female health workers, innovation and local manufacturing
“Immunization is central in protecting children’s health and well-being. To minimize outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, and unnecessary suffering, we urge governments and donors to redirect leftover COVID-19 funds to strengthen immunization services and ensure that routine immunization reach all children, wherever they are,” said Cori.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/georgia/