International child vaccination, which had fallen alarmingly during the novel coronavirus pandemic, is regaining momentumhowever, remains at a lower level than before the health crisis, international organizations belonging to the UN system emphasize today.

According to new data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), four million more children were vaccinated in 2022 than in 2021.

This is “good news”: “on average, countries around the world are re-approaching the level of immunization they reached before the pandemic,” said Kate O’Brien, director of immunization and vaccines at the World Health Organization. WHO, at AFP.

The data “are encouraging”, emphasized the general director of the organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, according to the WHO announcement.

In 2022, 20.5 million children did not receive one or more essential vaccines, compared to 24.4 million in 2021.

But despite “promising signs”, coverage has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels (18.4 million), which, according to UN agencies, exposes children to serious epidemic risks.

“Uneven” recovery

After all, the recovery is “very uneven,” O’Brien points out.

Rich countries are doing comparatively well and the WHO also notes that “some countries, particularly some very large, low- to middle-income countries such as India and Indonesia,” are making a strong recovery.

He explains that countries that see their vaccination coverage recover are generally those that invested in such programs systematically already before the pandemic broke out, citing Nepal, Kenya, Bangladesh.

Nevertheless by contrast, “in low-income countries as a whole, the recovery has not even begunif it even exists for some of them,” Ms O’Brien warns.

Globally, measles vaccination remains a major concern –one of the most infectious diseases–, which has not recovered to the extent achieved in other campaigns.

Coverage of the first dose of measles vaccine increased to 83% in 2022 from 81% in 2021, but remains lower than the 86% it reached in 2019.

In contrast, vaccination coverage against the human papillomavirus (HPV) for the first time surpassed pre-pandemic levels last year.

The UN launched three months ago a campaign for the “Great Catch-Up” of childhood vaccinations, focused on the twenty countries home to the three-quarters of the world’s children who were largely unvaccinated or missed doses in 2021.