WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, Vaccine Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the 2030 Immunization Agenda and many other global and national health partners, are joining forces to call for “The Big Catch-up,” a targeted global effort to increase vaccination among children following the decline driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is a public-private partnership that helps vaccinate half the world’s children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Since its founding in 2000, Gavi has helped immunize an entire generation – more than 981 million children – and prevented more than 16.2 million future deaths, helping to halve child mortality in 73 low-income countries. Vaccine Alliance bringing together developing countries and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other private sector partners.
The Big Catch-up is the theme of World Immunization Week 2023 which takes place from 24-30 April.
Big Catch-up aims to reverse the decline in child vaccinations recorded in more than 100 countries since the pandemic, as healthcare services are overburdened, clinics are closed, and imports and exports of vials, syringes and other medical supplies are disrupted. Meanwhile, communities and families experienced lockdowns, limiting travel and access to services, and limited financial and human resources and access to health commodities, due to the emergency response. Ongoing challenges such as conflict, climate crisis and vaccine hesitancy are also contributing to the decline in coverage rates.
Big Catch-up will primarily focus on the 20 countries
With more than 25 million children missing at least one vaccination in 2021 alone, outbreaks of preventable diseases, including measles, diphtheria, polio and yellow fever are already becoming more common and severe. Big Catch-up aims to protect populations from vaccine-preventable outbreaks, save children’s lives and strengthen national health systems.
While calling on communities and governments in each country to play their part in helping to catch up by reaching out to children who are being left behind, The Big Catch-up will have a special focus on the 20 countries where three-quarters of children are not getting vaccinated in 2021 direct.
The 20 countries where three quarters of children missed vaccinations in 2021 are: Afghanistan, Angola, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, DPRK, DRC, Ethiopia, India, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Tanzania, Vietnam.
Positive vaccination highlights
Although global coverage rates are dropping, there are also bright spots regarding vaccines. For example, early reports show India seeing a strong recovery in essential immunizations in 2022, while Uganda maintained high coverage rates during the pandemic. The state has also been successful in reaching out to groups in vulnerable situations. In Kenya, for example, working with community health workers and local leaders has increased immunization rates among the nomadic population in the north of the country.
To ensure progress on childhood immunization, partners work with countries to strengthen the health workforce, improve health service delivery, build trust and demand for vaccines in the community, and address gaps and barriers to restoring immunization. In addition to pursuing child immunization, intensive efforts are needed to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to adolescents to prevent cervical cancer, especially in low- and middle-income countries where the burden is highest.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Millions of children and young people, especially in low-income countries, have missed life-saving vaccinations, while outbreaks of this deadly disease are increasing. WHO is supporting dozens of countries to restore immunization and other essential health services. Catching up is top priority. No child should die from a vaccine-preventable disease.”
“Routine vaccines are usually the first entry for a child into their health system so children who miss early vaccines are at additional risk of being out of health services in the long term,” said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell.
“The longer we wait to reach and vaccinate these children, the more vulnerable they are and the greater the risk of outbreaks of more deadly diseases. Countries, global partners and local communities must come together to strengthen services, build trust and save lives.”
“We can’t let the legacy of the pandemic become the undoing of years of work protecting more children from deadly preventable diseases,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
“Global health partners, working with governments and communities, must do all we can to protect the life of every child.”
“Vaccines are a public health victory,” said Chris Elias, president of global development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The tremendous progress that has been made to end polio and reduce the incidence of communicable diseases is a direct result of the thousands of dedicated global partners and local health workers who have worked to immunize millions of children. We must redouble to reach all children with the vaccines they need to live healthier lives and ensure that future generations live free of preventable diseases like polio.”