(United Nations) Between 2019 and 2021, 67 million children were completely or partially deprived of life-saving vaccines due to disruptions related to COVID-19, setting the world back more than 10 years in terms of childhood vaccination, s alarm the UN.

Within three years, due to strains on health systems or pandemic-related lockdowns, “more than a decade of advances in routine childhood immunizations have been undermined”, and “recovering the right path will be a challenge, “said the UNICEF report published on Wednesday, which is concerned about the risk of epidemics of measles or polio.

According to the UN agency, this vaccination coverage is down in 112 countries. And between 2019 and 2021, the global childhood immunization rate fell by 5 percentage points, to 81%, a level not seen since 2008: 67 million children missed out on vaccines, particularly in Africa and South Asia, and 48 million of them received no dose of any kind.

A situation all the more worrying as this decline occurred at the end of a decade when “the growth of childhood vaccination was stagnating”, after the massive increase in the 1980s, underlines the UN agency.

“Vaccines have played a really important role in enabling children to live long, healthy lives,” so “any decline in immunization rates is worrying,” report editor Brian Keeley told AFP. .

Immunizing children saves 4.4 million lives every year, says UNICEF, a number that could rise to 5.8 million if the world manages to halve the number of children deprived of it by 2030. essential vaccines and achieve 90% coverage for key life-saving vaccines.

In three years, the vaccination rate against measles — so contagious that it requires 95 percent vaccinations in a community to achieve herd immunity — has dropped from 86 to 81 percent, according to the report. And the number of measles cases doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.

The drop in vaccination rates, similar for polio, diphtheria or pertussis, is also occurring in a broader context of a child “survival crisis”, notes UNICEF, highlighting an overlap of crises (malnutrition, impacts climate change, poverty, etc.)

“It is increasingly difficult for health systems and governments to meet the need for vaccinations,” said Brian Keeley.

To improve vaccination coverage, however, it is necessary to “strengthen primary health care and provide front-line workers, who are mostly women, with the resources and support they need”, insists UNICEF.

Not to mention the 67 million children deprived of vaccines during COVID-19 who will fall out of the age group targeted for vaccinations, argues Mr. Keeley, calling for them for a “committed program of catch-up”.

“These data are a worrying red flag,” UNICEF boss Catherine Russell warned in a statement.

“Trust in routine immunization must not be a casualty of the pandemic as well, or large numbers of children will soon die of measles, diphtheria or other diseases. preventable”.

In half of these 55 countries, “notoriously changing” vaccine confidence remains above 80%, however tempers UNICEF.

And despite this defiance, “there is reason to be optimistic that services are resuming in a number of countries,” said Brian Keeley, citing “encouraging” preliminary data for vaccinations in 2022.

But “even if we manage to get back to where we were before the pandemic, hopefully in a few years”, it will still be necessary to make progress in vaccinating those who were deprived of their injections already before COVID-19, insists he.