It’s World Immunization Week and the world’s first malaria vaccine has just begun an exciting new pilot program in Malawi. However, putting a downer on this good news, a new analysis by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the measles vaccine, which was invented in 1963, still isn’t reaching enough people thanks to flawed medical systems, limited health care access, and the rising tide of anti-vaxxers.
The data shows that across the globe, 169 million children didn’t receive the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017. That’s 21.1 million kids each year. To be protected against measles, you need two doses of the vaccine. The first is normally given at age 12-15 months, while the second is administered between 4 and 6 years of age.
This lack of vaccine uptake can mainly be attributed to poor access to medical care and imperfect health systems in many countries. However, UNICEF also notes that both “complacency” and “fear of skepticism about vaccines” are partly to blame.
“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, in a statement. “If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”
Although the average uptake of the first dose is relatively high at 85 percent, uptake of the second is just 67 percent. While 85 percent might seem pretty high, the WHO recommends vaccinating 95 percent of people to achieve herd immunity, the point at which a population is resistant to the spread of a disease.
It’s important that as many people as possible are immunized because a small handful of people, such as those with medical conditions that compromise their immune systems, cannot get vaccinated. Therefore, their health depends on everyone else receiving the vaccine.
According to the new analysis, the US wins the title of high-income country with the most unvaccinated children, with over 2.5 million children not receiving the first measles jab. France comes next with 608,000 unvaccinated children, followed by the UK with 527,000, Argentina with 438,000, and Italy with 435,000.
However, wealthy countries still had high coverage overall – about 94 percent for the first measles vaccine dose on average and 91 percent for the second.
Vaccine uptake is poorer in low- and middle-income countries, where, according to UNICEF, the “situation is critical”. In 2017, 4 million Nigerian children had not received the vaccine, nor had 2.9 million children in India, 1.2 million in both Pakistan and Indonesia, and 1.1 million in Ethiopia.
The data clearly shows that vaccine coverage varies greatly between countries and that work still needs to be done to bring vaccines to all. While nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Hungary, and Kazakhstan managed to administer the first measles vaccine dose to 99 percent of children in 2017, countries such as Chad, Angola, and Somalia only achieved 37 percent, 42 percent, and 46 percent respectively. What’s more, a number of countries, particularly in Africa, still haven’t introduced the second dose of the measles vaccine.
Organizations such as UNICEF and the WHO are working hard to bring down vaccine prices, promote vaccinations, and bring vaccines to children in areas that lack them. If you are fortunate enough to live somewhere where you have easy access to vaccinations, be sure to get them. Millions of people around the world aren’t as lucky as you.