Covid-19 interrupted routine vaccinations for 1.7 crore children worldwide in 2020: Lancet

South Asia was the most acutely affected region in 2020 as an estimated 36 lakh doses of DTP3 and 22 lakh doses of measles vaccines were missed by eligible children.

Global and regional estimates of Covid-19’s impact on routine childhood immunisation indicate unparalleled disruptions in vaccinations against measles (MCV1) and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough, DTP3), as at least 17 million (1.7 crore) children worldwide are projected to have missed their doses.

The findings of a new study published in Lancet suggest that an estimated 8.5 million (85 lakh) third doses of DTP vaccine and 8.9 million (89 lakh) first doses of measles vaccine were missed by children worldwide in 2020—a relative decline of more than 7 per cent over expected coverage levels had no pandemic occurred (83 per cent expected global coverage vs 77 per cent estimated due to pandemic disruption for the third dose of DTP; 86 per cent vs 79 per cent for first dose measles vaccine).

South Asia was the most acutely affected region in 2020, with an estimated 3.6 million (36 lakh) doses of DTP3 and 2.2 million (22 lakh) doses of MCV1 vaccine missed by eligible children due to the pandemic—almost twice as many as expected. Regional coverage of DTP3 was estimated to have fallen by 13 per cent and MCV1 by 4 per cent, relative to expected levels.

Estimates suggest that twice as many children may have missed doses of each vaccine than expected due to pandemic disruptions in high-income countries.

Although child vaccination rates improved in late 2020, catch-up efforts are lagging, and authors of the study warn that the world may face a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases unless a concerted effort is taken to get routine immunisation services back on track.

Measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are four vaccine-preventable childhood diseases targeted by immunisation programmes around the world, with the first claiming the lives of over 2,07,000 people in 2019. Previous studies have demonstrated the short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on childhood vaccine delivery and disease burden in specific locations and/or periods only. Furthermore, accurately measuring Covid-related disruptions to routine immunisations can be challenging due to the often delayed and incomplete data reporting during the pandemic.

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To address this, researchers used country-reported data and electronic medical records on vaccine administration to estimate the pandemic’s impact on global and regional vaccine doses delivered and coverage for MCV1 and DTP3 during each month in 2020. They built a model using daily human movement data captured through anonymized tracking of mobile phones in 134 countries to generate projections and estimate disruption to vaccine delivery in 100 countries where monthly vaccine administration data were not available.

The researchers also modelled the number of doses expected to be given in 2020 had Covid-19 not emerged. By comparing the estimated number of doses given during the pandemic to the number expected in 2020 without the pandemic, they estimated the number of additional children who missed routine doses throughout 2020 attributable to Covid-19.

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