According to a new report from UNICEF, nearly 13 million children in Africa missed one or more vaccinations between 2019 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the continent vulnerable to further outbreaks of disease and a “child survival crisis.” The report stated that Africa has the highest number of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children, with 12.7 million missing one or more vaccinations and 8.7 million not receiving a single dose of any vaccine. Half of the 20 countries in the world with the largest number of unvaccinated children, known as “zero-dose” children, are in Africa, with 2.2 million children in Nigeria and 1.1 million in Ethiopia having never received a vaccination.
The pandemic has exacerbated the lack of resilience and persistent weaknesses in health systems and primary healthcare in Africa, as 34 of the 54 countries in Africa experienced disease outbreaks such as measles, cholera, and poliovirus last year. UNICEF is urging African leaders to take strong political action to reduce the gap in vaccination and ensure that all children are immunized and protected. The report emphasized the need for health authorities to catch up with those missed vaccinations to prevent more deadly disease outbreaks.
The pandemic’s disruptive impact on childhood vaccination has been a global issue. The report noted that the intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunization resources to COVID-19 vaccination, health worker shortages, and stay-at-home measures all contributed to missed vaccinations across the world. Conflicts, climate change, and vaccine hesitancy have also played a role.
The World Health Organization also released its assessment, stating that Africa needs to vaccinate an estimated 33 million children by 2025 to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic’s “disruptive wake” and get “back on track.” The resurgence of diseases such as measles and cholera should serve as a clear warning for Africa and other parts of the world.
UNICEF is calling for urgent action to be taken to address the child survival crisis in Africa, with a focus on strengthening health systems and ensuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines. The pandemic has highlighted the critical need for resilient and effective health systems, and African leaders must act quickly to ensure that children are protected from deadly diseases. Failure to act could result in more disease outbreaks and a further decline in child health and survival in Africa.
The World Health Organization has been working to increase vaccine distribution in Africa, with the COVAX program aiming to deliver 520 million vaccine doses to the continent by the end of 2021. However, the program has faced delays and setbacks, and many African countries have been forced to turn to other sources for vaccines.
In response to the report, UNICEF has called for urgent action to be taken to address the crisis. The organization is calling on African leaders to invest in their health systems and primary healthcare, and to prioritize childhood vaccination to ensure that all children are immunized and protected from deadly diseases.
UNICEF is also urging countries to strengthen their supply chains for vaccines and other essential health commodities, and to ensure that health workers are adequately trained and equipped to deliver vaccines to children in need. The organization is calling for increased funding for vaccine programs, as well as greater collaboration between governments, international organizations, and the private sector to address the crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Africa, with millions of people facing economic hardship, food insecurity, and other challenges. The disruption of childhood vaccination has only added to the region’s struggles, leaving children vulnerable to deadly diseases and threatening to reverse years of progress in improving child health and survival.
As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, it is essential that we do not lose sight of the critical need to protect the most vulnerable among us. Childhood vaccination is a cornerstone of global health, and we must work together to ensure that every child has access to life-saving vaccines, no matter where they live.