A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF notes that 12.9 million children did not receive any vaccinations whatsoever in 2016 – a rate of around 1-in-10.
Additionally, around 6.6 million infants that did receive the first dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine – considered to be a vital life-saving inoculation – failed to receive the full, three-dose vaccine series.
The DTP vaccine series’ deployment around the world is seen as a key metric for immunization rates. As of 2016, 130 out of 194 WHO Member States have achieved a 90 percent coverage rate, which is a massive improvement from a quarter of a century ago.
However, in order to have all 194 states achieve the same coverage rate, 10 million more children need to be vaccinated. Around 7.3 million of these live in humanitarian crisis environments or conflict zones, and about 4 million live in just three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Routine vaccination programs in these countries have taken a backseat to sectarian violence, political corruption, and war.
“These children most likely have also not received any of the other basic health services,” Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of immunization, vaccines, and biologicals at WHO, said in a statement. “If we are to raise the bar on global immunization coverage, health services must reach the unreached. Every contact with the health system must be seen as an opportunity to immunize.”
Vaccines have saved billions of lives since they made their debut back in the late 18th century. Largely because of global inoculation programs, the lives of 122 million children have been saved since 1990 alone.
Still, as this WHO report demonstrates, there’s a lot more work to be done. Eight countries even had a vaccination coverage rate of below 50 percent: Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Ukraine.
Clearly, there are plenty of barriers to overcome. Not only are there parts of the world that are still to receive proper vaccination programs, but anti-vaxxer sentiment has been resurgent as of late, and it doesn’t help that the most powerful person in the world is effusing anti-scientific rhetoric in this regard.
Still, the trend is, overall, in the right direction. Diseases are being rapidly wiped out in the wild, and venture philanthropists are throwing their considerable weight (and funds) behind new vaccination programs.
Vaccinations are also becoming mandatory for schoolchildren in a range of countries, from Uganda to France, Italy to Australia. In every case, the results are clear – vaccination rates go up and the spread of preventable diseases drops.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty more lives to be saved, and those 12.9 million unvaccinated children seem like a good place to start.