Vaccination rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are falling, putting children in the country at risk of infectious diseases such as polio, measles, and yellow fever, according to UNICEF.
The rates declined in January and February this year, compared to the same period in 2019, according to reports in the country. UNICEF said likely causes for this decline include a lack of vaccine supplies, low coverage, and an inability to keep vaccines sufficiently cooled in the supply chain.
But now, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to cause an even further decline in vaccination rates.
“If this downward trend in immunization coverage persists, it will erase the gains made over the past two years in tackling deadly vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF representative in the DRC, in a statement.
“The larger the number of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children, the higher the risk of disease outbreaks, and this will only strain an already overburdened health system,” he said.
Only 35% of children in the DRC are fully vaccinated before their first birthday, far below the global average. More than 86,900 children in the DRC have not received the oral polio vaccine, according to UNICEF; over 107,000 haven't received the yellow fever vaccine; and nearly 85,000 children haven't received the measles vaccine.
The DRC is far from the only country facing setbacks in its vaccination efforts. Throughout the world, as healthcare systems prioritize the fight against COVID-19, efforts to get vaccines to children are being disrupted.
"Prevention services for other infectious diseases and immunization campaigns have been put on hold or shut down in some countries because of COVID-19,” Tarik Jasarevic, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson, previously told Global Citizen.
Some 24 low- and middle-income countries have postponed or paused measles vaccination programs, leaving over 100 million children at risk of the deadly disease, according to the New York Times.
Last month, meanwhile, UNICEF warned about the risk posed to millions of children by the disruptions to immunization efforts caused by COVID-19.
“Children missing out now on vaccines must not go their whole lives without protection from disease,” Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, told the UN. “The legacy of COVID-19 must not include the global resurgence of other killers like measles and polio.”