Around the world, more than 20 million children missed out on vital vaccines like the ones that prevent measles, diphtheria, and tetanus in 2018, according to data released Monday.
The data, produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, provides an annual update on immunization coverage estimates globally. The figures show that vaccine rates have stalled due to conflict, inequality, and complacency.
The report indicates that global vaccination coverage of three doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP3) and one dose of the measles vaccine has been stuck at about 86% since 2010.
“Vaccines are one of our most important tools for preventing outbreaks and keeping the world safe,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement. “While most children today are being vaccinated, far too many are left behind. Unacceptably, it’s often those who are most at risk — the poorest, the most marginalized, those touched by conflict or forced from their homes — who are persistently missed.”
The report notes that almost half of the children who missed out on vaccines lived in just 16 countries: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
While providing access to vaccines for hard-to-reach populations continues to be an anticipated obstacle, 2018 was marked by a different concern, particularly within developed countries.
Measles outbreaks have popped up globally, in large part due to the anti-vaccination movement.
“Measles is a real time indicator of where we have more work to do to fight preventable diseases,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, said in a statement. “Because measles is so contagious, an outbreak points to communities that are missing out on vaccines due to access, costs, or, in some places, complacency. We have to exhaust every effort to immunize every child.”
There were almost 350,000 measles cases reported globally in 2018 — more than double the number in 2017 — according to the report.
The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has been available since 1963, and vaccinating children is the best way to prevent future outbreaks. Prior to its introduction, measles was the leading cause of death among children worldwide.
This year’s immunization update also included statistics on human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine coverage: 90 countries had added the HPV vaccine to their national vaccine programs as of 2018.
HPV is an extremely common virus that can present no harmful symptoms but can also lead to cervical cancer — 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
There were over 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer in 2018 and in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women.
Of the 90 countries with national introduction, only 13 were lower-income countries, which indicates that the girls most at risk still lack access to this vital vaccine.
The WHO strives for global immunization coverage of 95%, as that would sufficiently protect all communities against outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which would ultimately lead to progress towards achieving Global Goal 3 on good health and well-being for all.