TL;DR: Vaccination rates are dropping and millions of kids missed vaccines during the pandemic. We need to get kids caught up now. Vaccines are incredibly important to prevent serious childhood illness and save lives.
Vaccines are among the most important public health interventions of all time. We have vaccines to prevent more than 20 life- and health- threatening diseases. Vaccines help people live longer, happier, and healthier lives. They help keep our economy afloat, reduce poverty, keep kids in school and adults at work, prevent disease outbreaks, keep individuals from getting really sick, and are a key tool in the fight against antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevent 3.5-5.0 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles alone.
Vaccination rates dropped during the pandemic and, sadly, continue to fall. The World Health Organization and UNICEF released a report showing that global vaccination rates continued to drop in 2021 with the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in 30 years. These numbers aren’t good.
The percentage of kids who received 3 doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTP) is a commonly used measure for vaccination rates worldwide. This metric fell 5 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, all the way down to 81%. This means that about 25 million children missed at least one dose of DTP in 2021 (which is 2 million more than in 2020 and 6 million more than 2019). 18 million of those didn’t even get one dose. Rates are worse in low- and middle-income countries.
We saw this same trend with other vaccines too. The global coverage of the HPV vaccine, a vaccine that protects against cervical and penile cancers, was only 15%. Worldwide, only 81% of kids received their first dose of measles vaccine, which is the lowest rate we have seen since 2008. 5.3 million more kids did not get their first dose of measles vaccine compared to 2019, and 6.7 million more kids did not get their third dose of polio vaccine.
Vaccine coverage rates dropped in every region and the US was no exception. The CDC reported that vaccination rates in kindergarteners decreased in the 2020-2021 schoolyear. They found that overall, vaccination coverage dropped from about 95% to 94% (which doesn’t seem like a ton until we remember that there are millions of kindergarten age kids in the US). Coverage exceeded 95% in only 16 states and was <90% in 7 states and Washington DC. Roughly 35,000 MORE kids across the US entered kindergarten without being completely vaccinated. And this is probably an underestimate.
In 2020, there was a 15% drop in orders for the Vaccines for Children Program, a federally funded program in the US that provides vaccines for kids at no cost who might otherwise not get vaccinated. In 2021, orders were still 7% down from pre-pandemic levels. In Florida, rates for 2-year-old immunizations in county-run facilities dropped from 92.1% in 2019 to 79.3% in 2021. Tennessee saw a 14% drop in vaccine doses given to kids under 2 in 2020 and 2021 compared to pre-pandemic vaccination rates.
Why is this happening?
Worldwide, we see decreased access to immunizations, increased misinformation about vaccines, supply chain interruptions, increased poverty and housing insecurity, resource diversion to COVID-19 responses, decreased access to healthcare and schools, and more children living in conflict areas.
What can we do about it?
If your kids aren’t fully vaccinated, talk with your kiddo’s primary care clinician about getting caught up on vaccines and encourage others to do the same. If you don’t have a PCP, vaccines are available at community health centers and health departments as well. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider or check out this vaccination information page from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Use your voice to advocate for vaccine equity around the world. Check out the Immunization Agenda 2030 for what the WHO, UNICEF, and other partners are doing to address vaccine inequities. Be a vaccine ambassador!
Speak out against misinformation and steer people to good resources on vaccination safety and efficacy. Listen to people’s concerns and address them with empathy.
Low rates of vaccination increase the risk of outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses that can cause long lasting health consequences for children and can even result in death. Millions more children are at risk of serious diseases from what are vaccine preventable illnesses. We all need to do our part to improve vaccination rates and access at home and around the world.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls