The following statement is by Stacey Knobler, Sabin Vaccine Institute Vice President, Vaccine Innovation & Global Immunization, in response to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates of national immunization coverage (WUENIC).
“After decades of reaching more communities and saving countless lives, the alarming data released today underscores that every region and community risks catastrophic consequences for the future if we do not collectively and urgently act to help professionals closest to immunization delivery and decision-making boost and sustain high vaccination rates.
Yet the data also delivers strong evidence of resilience: WHO and UNICEF note that focused investment and support of the people and the systems delivering vaccines in Pakistan and Uganda have delivered tangible returns in the midst of the tremendous strain the COVID-19 pandemic brought on health systems.
In 2021, at least 25 million infants and young children missed essential and life-saving vaccines, the vast majority living in low- and middle-income countries – the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in about three decades.
Deficient immunization rates have already caused recent avoidable outbreaks of measles and polio. More than 25% of the progress achieved in cancer-preventing HPV vaccine coverage in 2019 has been lost, putting millions of girls and young women and men at risk.
WHO and UNICEF officials are correctly warning that gaps in routine immunization, paired with rapidly increasing rates of severe acute malnutrition and other factors could create conditions for a child survival crisis.
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout, while already saving millions of lives, continues to reveal stark inequalities – only 23% of people over age 60 and 37% of health workers in low-income countries have received COVID-19 vaccines.
As I said at the Second Global COVID Summit in May, the only way the full potential of vaccines can be delivered is a deep and sustained commitment to listen to, support, and collaborate with immunization system professionals, health workers, researchers, journalists, civil society leaders and advocates in every community. Lasting change on the ground must be led and prioritized by those closest to both the challenges and the opportunities.
We at Sabin will continue to focus our support on these leaders around the world to reach the global target of 90% immunization coverage of essential vaccines and reduce the number of unvaccinated children by half by 2030.
Our Global Immunization program has committed this year to bolster collaboration and capacity among more than 3000 immunization professionals, researchers, health workers and journalists; to better understand and address barriers to vaccine delivery, acceptance and demand; and to develop new vaccines to prevent future pandemics and better apply epidemiology to maximize the impact of vaccine rollout.
The millions of professionals around the world speaking to their communities about immunization every day must be backed by equally fervent and unwavering efforts by all of us to deliver on the lifesaving and transformational power of vaccines.”