- The pandemic has seen essential immunization levels drop in more than 100 countries
firstto the growing epidemics of measles, diphtheria, polio and yellow fever.
- “The Big Catch-up” is an expanded effort to raise vaccination levels among children to at least pre-pandemic levels and strives to surpass them.
- Led by a broad range of national and global healthcare partners, The Big Catch-up also aims to ensure stronger primary healthcare services for essential immunization in the future.
WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, together with Immunization Agenda 2030 and many other global and national health partners, are today joining forces to call for “The Big Catch-up”, a global effort aimed at increasing vaccination among children following the decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This effort aims to reverse the decline in childhood vaccinations seen in more than 100 countries since the start of the pandemic, due to overburdened health services, closed clinics, and disrupted imports and exports of vials, syringes and other medical supplies. Meanwhile, communities and families have faced lockdowns, limiting travel and access to services, and financial and human resources have been limited along with access to health products, due to the emergency response. Ongoing challenges such as conflict, climate crises and vaccine hesitancy have also contributed to declining coverage rates.
With more than 25 million children missing at least one vaccination in 2021 alone, outbreaks of preventable diseases, including measles, diphtheria, polio and yellow fever, are already becoming more widespread and severe. The Big Catch-up aims to protect populations from vaccine-preventable epidemics, save children’s lives and strengthen national health systems.
While urging the people and governments of every country to do their part to help catch up by reaching the children they’ve missed, The Big Catch Up will focus specifically on the 20 countries where three-quarters of children who missed their vaccinations in 2021 live*.
While global coverage levels have declined, there have also been bright spots of resilience. For example, early reports indicate that India has seen a strong resurgence in essential immunization in 2022, while Uganda has maintained high levels of coverage during the pandemic. Countries have also managed to reach out to groups in vulnerable situations. In Kenya, for example, partnerships with community health workers and local leaders have improved immunization levels among nomadic populations in the country’s north.
To ensure progress in childhood immunization, partners are working with countries to strengthen health workforces, improve health service delivery, build trust and demand for vaccines within communities, and address recovery gaps and barriers of immunization. In addition to catching up on childhood immunization, intensified efforts are needed to introduce human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in adolescent girls to prevent cervical cancer, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where the burden is highest.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Millions of children and adolescents, particularly in low-income countries, have lost life-saving vaccinations, while outbreaks of these deadly diseases have increased. WHO it is supporting dozens of countries to restore immunization and other essential health services. Catching up is a top priority. No child should have to die from a vaccine-preventable disease.”
“Routine vaccines are typically a child’s first entry into their health care system and therefore children who miss their first vaccines are at an additional risk of being excluded from long-term health care,” the executive director of the agency said. ‘UNICEF Catherine Russell. “The longer we wait to reach and vaccinate these children, the more vulnerable they become and the greater the risk of more deadly epidemics. Countries, global partners and local communities must come together to strengthen services, build trust and save lives.”
“We cannot allow a legacy of the pandemic to be the undoing of many years of work to protect more and more children from preventable and deadly diseases,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Global health partners, working with governments and communities, must do everything they can to protect the life of every child.”
“Vaccines are a public health triumph,” said Dr. Chris Elias, president of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The incredible progress made towards eradicating polio and reducing the incidence of infectious diseases is a direct result of thousands of dedicated global partners and local health workers who have worked to immunize millions of children. We must double down to reach all children with the vaccines they need to live healthier lives and ensure future generations live free of preventable diseases like polio.”
Notes to editors
For more information on The Big Catch-up, visit the WHO page, the newly released UNICEF State of the World’s Children interactive site and the World Immunization Week Partner Content Hub.
*The 20 countries home to three-quarters of children who missed out on immunizations in 2021 are: Afghanistan, Angola, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, DPRK, DRC, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Tanzania, Vietnam.
About the World Health Organization
Dedicated to the well-being of all people and guided by science, the World Health Organization leads and supports global efforts to provide everyone, everywhere, with equal opportunities for a safe and healthy life. We are the United Nations agency for health connecting nations, partners and frontline people in over 150 locations, leading the world’s response to health emergencies, preventing disease, addressing the root causes of health problems and expanding access to medicines and health care. Our mission is to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. www.who.int
UNICEF works in some of the hardest places in the world to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. In more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org
Follow UNICEF on ChirpingFacebook, Instagram and YouTube
About Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership that helps vaccinate half of the world’s children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has helped immunize an entire generation – more than 981 million children – and prevented more than 16.2 million future deaths, helping to cut infant mortality in half in 73 low-income countries. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. To understand how the pandemic has impacted essential immunization in Gavi-supported countries, read our analysis on the state of routine immunization. Learn more about Gavi.org and connect with us on Facebook, ChirpingLinkedIn and Instagram.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life is of equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them a chance to emerge from hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, seek to ensure that all people, especially those with fewer resources, have access to the opportunities they need to be successful in school and in life. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of co-chairs Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and the board of directors.