Confidence in childhood vaccines declined during Covid-19 pandemic: Unicef

United Nations, Apr 19 (EFE).- Public perception of the importance of vaccinating children fell sharply in a majority of countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) said in a new report released on Wednesday, which warns of the risk this poses to the health of millions of children.

“This data is a worrying warning signal. We cannot allow confidence in routine immunizations to become another victim of the pandemic. Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be of more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases,” Unicef Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement.

“At the height of the pandemic, scientists rapidly developed vaccines that saved countless lives. But despite this historic achievement, fear and disinformation about all types of vaccines circulated as widely as the virus itself,” she added.

The report shows that in 52 out of 55 countries surveyed, public perception of the importance of vaccines for children worsened, with only three countries – China, India and Mexico – where it remained the same or improved.

Meanwhile, in other countries such as South Korea, Ghana, Senegal and Japan, confidence in childhood vaccines fell by more than a third, which means that in some of them the percentage of the people that perceive vaccines as important for children is even below 50 percent.

“In most countries, people under 35 and women were more likely to report less confidence about vaccines for children after the start of the pandemic,” the report said.

Childhood vaccine confidence in European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, ranges between 85 and 92 percent.

In others it is lower, including the Netherlands (70 percent), France (75 percent), Austria (75 percent), Belgium (77 percent), Bulgaria (63 percent) and Latvia (59 percent), although not as low as in Russia (54 percent) and Japan (54 percent).

In the Americas, 93 percent of Mexicans, 88 percent of Peruvians, 89 percent of Brazilians and 79 percent of Americans see childhood vaccination as important, according to the report.

Despite vaccine confidence being volatile and time specific, overall support for vaccines remains relatively strong with 80 percent of the respondents in the countries studied viewing vaccines as important for children, the report said.

However, it warned that several factors suggest “the threat of vaccine hesitancy may be growing.”

They include uncertainty about the response to the pandemic, growing access to misleading information, declining trust in expertise and political polarization.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused the largest decrease in 30 years in child immunization globally, mainly as a result of interruptions of programs in many countries, a shortage of healthcare workers and lockdowns, the report said.

Unicef estimates that some 48 million children didn’t receive a single routine vaccine between 2019 and 2021 and that almost another 20 million missed out on some of the doses they should have received.

As a result, vaccination rates have fallen to 2008 levels, undoing the progress made over a decade.

According to Unicef’s data, one in five children in the world are not vaccinated or have not received the necessary doses, which makes them susceptible to death from preventable diseases.

For example, about one in five children has no protection against measles, a disease that before the introduction of the vaccine in 1963 killed about 2.6 million people a year, mostly children.

In total, Unicef estimates that vaccines save some 4.4 million lives each year, a figure that could grow to 5.8 million by 2030 if the goals set by the international community are met. EFE


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