"The Big Catch-up" to Immunity for ChildrenCOVID-19 has impacted the world in several dire ways, but one that calls for immediate attention is the impact of immunization vaccinations. In light of this, “The Big Catch-Up” to immunity for children is making efforts through initiatives to inspire change.

The Importance of Vaccines

The development of vaccines is, what the president of Global Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Chris Elias, describes, as “a public health triumph.” Due to vaccines, the world has near eradicated once-fatal diseases such as poliovirus, measles, diphtheria and yellow fever. For instance, poliovirus in particular has seen a 99% decrease in cases since 1988, dropping from 350,000 a year to a record 30. The World Health Organization (WHO) has forecasted that by the year 2030, vaccines could save 50 million lives.

Beyond immunity and personal health, the importance of vaccines extends to communal and financial benefits. There is a domino effect when children who do not receive vaccines become ill. These children miss out on education, while the caregivers experience a loss of income and productivity as they stay home to provide care. A recent study that examined 94 low to middle-income countries reported a $20 return on every $1 “invested in immunization between 2021 and 2030,” according to the U.N. Foundation. That profit is the result of good health enhancing productivity, education and ability.

The Impact of COVID-19

Before COVID-19, the rate of children receiving immunization vaccinations across the globe was at 86%. According to the U.N. Foundation, this percentage dropped to 81% in 2021, representing approximately 67 million children in more than 100 countries with vulnerability to preventable fatal diseases, with reports of increasing outbreaks. In Africa alone, 8.4 million children go without essential vaccines in 2021.

The reasons for this setback all link to COVID-19. Overburdened health workers, decreased access to clinics, diverted resources, attention and supplies, reduced travel, school closures and increased vaccine misinformation all contributed to the lag in immunization vaccinations across the globe. Fortunately, several health organizations are banding together to catch up to the initial progress in immunity.

The Big Catch-Up Plan

Organizations including WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation formed “The Big Catch-up,” in response to COVID-19’s impact on immunization vaccinations. Its mission is to, quite literally, catch up to the immunity progress made pre-pandemic and continue to push beyond that. In addition, there are efforts to introduce the HPV vaccine in low to middle-income countries where the risk is highest, according to the WHO.

The plan particularly focuses on providing vaccines to the 20 countries that saw the most decrease in immunity vaccines for children. These countries include Afghanistan, Angola, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, DPRK, DRC, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Tanzania and Vietnam.

“The Big Catch-up” aims to restore immunization levels by:

  • Improving health care workforce
  • Projecting accurate information and enhancing trust around vaccines
  • Strengthening health service delivery
  • Addressing obstacles and gaps to restoring immunization

“Catching up is a top priority. No child should die of a vaccine-preventable disease.” – WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Doing Important Work

“The Big Catch-up” to immunity for children is crucial to avoiding another pandemic – this time vaccine-preventable diseases that the world had almost eradicated completely. In fact, measles outbreaks are already being reported across the globe, and just a “small pocket…can be enough to fuel pandemics,” according to News Medical. Part of The Big Catch-up’s plan includes integrating immunization into primary health care, so the disruptions to vaccines experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic are never seen again.

“The longer we wait to reach and vaccinate these children, the more vulnerable they become and the greater the risk of more deadly disease outbreaks. Countries, global partners and local communities must come together to strengthen services, build trust and save lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

– Jenny Boxall
Photo: Flickr