One in four children in Latin America and the Caribbean does not have a full vaccination schedule against the most common infectious diseases, UNICEF warned Monday, fearing a “worrying” fall in vaccination coverage.
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“In just five years, immunization coverage for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough has increased from 90% in 2015 to 76% in 2020,” or 2.5 million extra children who are under-vaccinated, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF ) at. in an opinion.
“The decline in vaccination rates in the region is alarming,” said Jean Gough, director of UNICEF’s Panama-based regional office. “Millions of children and adolescents are at risk of serious complications, including death, if avoidable,” she said, quoted in the press release.
According to Unicef, Haiti and Suriname have the lowest coverage rates in the region, with only half of children vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, followed by Venezuela (60%), Bolivia (68%) and Ecuador (70%).
UNICEF recalls the reality of epidemiological outbreaks such as that of diphtheria, which have risen from 5 cases in 2013 across the Region to almost 900 cases in 2018. Measles, which is more contagious, reached 23,000 people in 2019, up from 500 in 2013.
“There are several reasons for this decline,” Ralph Midy, regional maternal and newborn health specialist for UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean, told AFP.
“The context in the region has changed over the past five years. Governments have turned their attention to other emerging public health issues such as (the) Zika virus, Chikungunya and more recently COVID-19,” he said.
The existence of hard-to-reach migrant populations, as well as access to people living in remote areas, also hamper vaccination campaigns, he said.
According to UNICEF, if the fall in immunization coverage precedes the arrival of the pandemic, the situation has been made worse by “the closure or irregular admissions in many primary health centers (…) and the fear of ‘catching COVID-19 there’.”
Unicef calls on Latin American and Caribbean governments to urgently restore and strengthen basic immunization programs, develop campaigns to increase confidence in vaccines and implement plans to reach the poorest populations.