Vaccine confidence dips thanks to pandemic
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > Confidence in vaccines dips during pandemic: Will this impact no jab, no play?

Confidence in vaccines dips during pandemic: Will this impact no jab, no play?

by Freya Lucas

April 25, 2023

The confidence Australians have in childhood vaccines slipped more than seven per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with the advent of the pandemic leading to the largest sustained drop globally in childhood immunisation in 30 years, a new report from UNICEF has found.


Across the world almost 50 million children did not receive a single routine vaccination between 2019 – 2021 and at least 67 million have missed one or more vaccines. 


In relation to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, the drop in vaccination rates may impact enrolments given the advent of “no jab, no play” restrictions in many states and territories. 


Australia is one of countries where confidence in childhood vaccines dropped during the pandemic, alongside many adjacent countries including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – where the perception of the importance of routine immunisations plummeted even further.


UNICEF’s flagship global report The State of the World’s Children warns a failure to protect children against disease through vaccination has serious consequences, including death or lifelong disability.


While the actual rates of immunisation in Australia are close to meeting a 95 per cent target, Alice Hall, Director of International Programs for UNICEF Australia said, recent cases of measles are a reminder that no country can be fully protected from disease. Where there are pockets of unvaccinated children, disease can exist.


“There are tens of millions of children around the world who missed routine vaccines during the pandemic, but with the commitment of governments we can strengthen health systems and ensure we reach children around the world – even in the hardest to reach places – to help reduce the spread of preventable diseases,” Ms Hall added. 


“The drop in confidence in childhood vaccines in Australia and our neighbouring countries since the pandemic began is a cause for concern. We know that vaccines save lives and diseases do not respect borders.”


In 2022, the number of measles outbreaks globally was double that of 2021, and polio cases in the UK, USA and Israel during 2022 demonstrated that decades of progress to eliminate preventable diseases can be put at risk if we fail to vaccinate every child. 


The pandemic interrupted childhood vaccination almost everywhere, especially due to intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunisation resources to COVID-19 vaccination, health worker shortages and stay-at-home measures.


Children born just prior to, or during, the pandemic are now moving past the age when they would normally be vaccinated, underscoring the need for urgent action to catch up on those who were missed and prevent deadly disease outbreaks. 


Australia, Ms Hall continued, should remain committed to strengthening routine immunisation efforts as a contribution to regional health security. Countries such as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea saw significant reductions in the coverage of routine immunisation as a result of the pandemic, and confidence levels are falling in many countries. 


If children are not protected from disease, UNICEF fears the increase of climate related crises combined with emergencies such as the recent Türkiye and Syrian earthquakes and Pakistan floods, could put more communities at risk of communicable and preventable diseases such as malaria, dengue and cholera. 


It will require concerted efforts by governments to increase vaccine reach and confidence if we are to reach sustainable goals. It is essential we continue to build confidence in vaccines and to make the most of a host of new ideas and technologies that can boost the power of vaccines and ensure they reach every child – both in Australia, and around the world.


Access the report in full here

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