20 million miss out

happy child being vaccinated

More than 10% of the world’s children are not being vaccinated against preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria and tetanus, new data show

The World Health Organization and UNICEF’s new data shows that globally, since 2010, vaccine coverage with three doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and one dose of the measles vaccine has stalled at around 86%.

The organisations say that while this is a high rate, it is not sufficient, with 95% needed to protect against the type of outbreak being seen in some parts of the world, such as the 2019 measles outbreak in the Philippines.

Australia is doing better than the world average: according to the Federal Department of Health, more than 91% of one-year-olds, two-year-olds and five-year-olds are now covered, inching closer to the aspirational target of 95%.

“Vaccines are one of our most important tools for preventing outbreaks and keeping the world safe,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

“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.”

Most unvaccinated children live in the poorest countries, and are disproportionately in fragile or conflict-affected states. Almost half are in 16 countries—Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Stark disparities in vaccine access persist across and within countries of all income levels. This has resulted in devastating measles outbreaks in many parts of the world – including countries that have high overall vaccination rates.

In 2018, almost 350,000 measles cases were reported globally, more than doubling from 2017.

“Measles is a real time indicator of where we have more work to do to fight preventable diseases,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

“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.” 

Ukraine leads a varied list of countries with the highest reported incidence rate of measles in 2018.

While the country has now managed to vaccinate over 90% of its infants, coverage had been low for several years, leaving a large number of older children and adults at risk.

Several other countries with high incidence and high coverage have significant groups of people who have missed the measles vaccine in the past. This shows how low coverage over time or discrete communities of unvaccinated people can spark deadly outbreaks.

In July 2019, a case of measles was identified in Western Australia – and the affected person visited a Discount Pharmacy – and two cases in NSW, in one instance where an affected person visited a Priceline.

In April 2019, Health Minister Greg Hunt launched an awareness campaign, particularly aimed at adults born between 1966 and 1994, who may have not caught measles as a child, and may not have received two doses of the vaccine.

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