Africa: 20 Million Children Missing Out on Life-Saving Vaccines - UN

Two leading UN agencies report nearly 20 million children worldwide—more than one in 10—were not vaccinated against killer diseases, such as measles, diphtheria and tetanus in 2018.

Global life-saving vaccine coverage remains at 86 percent.  This is high, but the World Health Organization says it is not high enough.  It says 95 percent coverage is needed to protect against outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The worldwide measles outbreak is the starkest and most alarming example of what can happen when vaccine coverage across countries and communities falls below 95 percent.  Last year, nearly 350,000 measles cases were reported globally, more than double that of 2017.

WHO’s director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Kate O’Brien warns measles outbreaks are not just persisting, but are increasing.  She agrees some of the problem is due to misinformation and false information regarding the safety of the measles vaccine.  But she says low coverage is mainly linked to sharp inequalities in both low-income and high-income countries.

“Even in high-income countries, access to vaccines, inequality and quality of care are often the greatest obstacles for parents to get vaccines for their children.  So, we want to emphasize both of these things that barriers to vaccination are not only about poor countries, they are also about the situation in high-income and middle-income countries,” she said.

Nevertheless, O’Brien notes most unvaccinated children live in the poorest countries; especially in fragile or conflict-affected States.  Almost half, she said, are in just 16 countries.  Ten of them are in sub-Saharan Africa.

WHO reports Nigeria, India and Pakistan have the lowest vaccination rates. It finds only two regions, the Americas and Western-Pacific had lower vaccination coverage in 2018 than in 2017.   Vaccinations in every other region, it says, have gone up or have plateaued.

While Africa remains the region with the lowest vaccine coverage, WHO says it has not gone backwards.  However, due to expected population rise, WHO projects fewer children in Africa are likely to receive life-saving vaccines in the coming decades.

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