India, along with China and Mexico, bucked the unhealthy trend of declining confidence in vaccines being witnessed in parts of the world, says UNICEF’s flagship report on “The state of the world’s children” (2023) on childhoold immunisation. 

The UNICEF report, based on new data collected by The Vaccine Confidence Project (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) revealed that the importance of vaccines for children “held firm or improved” only in China, India, and Mexico, of 55 countries studied.

Vaccine confidence saw a decline in over a third of the studied countries, including the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Japan, after the start of Covid-19. The report warned of growing vaccine hesitancy caused by misleading information and declining trust in vaccine efficacy. 

In fact, a total of 67 million children had missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries, the report said.

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This trend comes against the backdrop of the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunisation in 30 years, fuelled by Covid-19 that had interrupted childhood vaccination almost everywhere, it said. This was due to intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunisation resources to the Covid-19 vaccination, health worker shortages, and stay-at-home measures, it said.

The report highlights India as one of the countries with the highest vaccine confidence in the world, said Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF’s India Representative, lauding the country’s immunisation programme.

“Reaching the last child with immunisation is a key marker of equity that benefits not only the child but also the whole community. Routine immunisations and strong health systems can best prepare us in preventing future pandemics and reducing morbidity and mortality,” she added.

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Increasing cases 

“In 2022, for example, the number of measles cases was more than double the total in the previous year. The number of children paralysed by polio was up 16 per cent YoY in 2022. When comparing the 2019 to 2021 period with the previous three-year period, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of children paralysed by polio, highlighting the need to ensure vaccination efforts are sustained,” the report said, on the global landscape. In November 2022, WHO said a record high of about 40 million children have missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021.

Despite an increase in the number of zero-dose (unreached or missed out) children to three million – between 2020 and 2021 – during Covid-19, India was able to arrest the backslide. India brought down the number to 2.7 million, which represents a smaller proportion of India’s under -5 child population given its size, a UNICEF note said. This achievement was attributed to sustained evidence-based catch-up campaigns, including the Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI).