Disruptions to healthcare around the world caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns have made millions of children miss their shots for other diseases, UNICEF and the World Health Organizations have warned.

An estimated 23 million children worldwide missed their routine immunizations in 2020, the two UN agencies announced on Wednesday, with the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia most affected.

IndiaPakistanIndonesiaPhilippinesMexicoMozambiqueAngolaTanzaniaArgentinaVenezuelaMali Countries reporting an alarming rise in children who haven’t received a single vaccine during the pandemic. To save lives, we need urgent action now.

Even as everyone focuses on Covid-19 jabs, “we have gone backwards on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The newly recorded number is the highest since 2009, and went up by almost four million since 2019. Children across the globe missed out on vaccinations as hospitals and clinics closed down, reduced hours, or focused on the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown measures and transportation difficulties also kept people from accessing routine healthcare, the agencies said.

“Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight to immunize children against preventable child illness, including with the widespread measles outbreaks two years ago,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The pandemic has made a bad situation worse.” 

Three million more children than in 2019 missed out on measles vaccination, and 3.5 million missed the first dose of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP-1) jab. Vaccination in the Americas dropped from 91 percent in 2016 to 82 percent in 2020, due to “funding shortfalls, vaccine misinformation and instability,” the agencies said.

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