One in four children in Latin America and the Caribbean does not have vaccine protection against three potentially deadly diseases, which makes them vulnerable in a region where there is an "alarming" decrease in vaccinated minors, UNICEF warned on Monday.
"In just five years, the complete vaccination schedule for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped from 90 percent in 2015 to 76 percent in 2020," UNICEF said in a statement.
This means, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), that "one in four boys and girls" in Latin America has not received the full routine vaccination schedule that would protect them from "multiple diseases."
"The decline in vaccination rates in the region is alarming," Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Panama, warned in a statement.
The situation "leaves millions of children and adolescents exposed to serious illness, or even death, when it could be avoided," he added.
According to data provided by UNICEF, Haiti and Suriname – with only half of the children vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough – have the lowest coverage percentages in the region when it comes to these diseases. They are followed by Venezuela, with 60 percent, Bolivia, with 68 percent, and Ecuador with 70 percent.
In contrast, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Cuba in the Caribbean, and Costa Rica in Central America have the highest coverage, with more than 95 percent.
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In South America, Uruguay, with 92 percent, has the best record.
UNICEF said that the drop in coverage, 14 percentage points in the last five years, reflects almost 2.5 million children, who have not received the three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
Of them, 1.5 million have not even received the first dose of the vaccine.
The decrease in vaccination coverage had already begun before the Vovid-19 pandemic, but due to the coronavirus, the situation was aggravated by the suspension of many basic health services and the fear of getting infected by going to a clinic.
"There are several causes for this decline," Ralph Midy, regional specialist for Maternal and Neonatal Health for UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean, told AFP.
"The context of the region has changed in the last five years. Governments have focused their attention on other emerging public health issues, such as [the] Zika, chikungunya [viruses], and more recently Covid-19," he added.
The existence of migrant populations that are difficult to locate and who do not always have access to regular health services, in addition to people who live in isolated or difficult-to-reach areas, also make the vaccination process difficult.
UNICEF warned that the decrease in the percentage of vaccinated children is a "dangerous setback" because it puts the health of minors at risk, who can suffer lifelong consequences.
In addition, the decrease in vaccination also facilitates the spread of diseases such as measles, whose virus is highly contagious.
United Nations data indicates that while in 2013 there were almost 500 cases of measles, in 2019 the figure rose to more than 23,000. The same with diphtheria, which went from five cases, in 2013, to almost 900 in 2019.
"We need to get back to that 90% coverage that we had five years ago and even improve on it," Midy said.
"As countries recover from the pandemic, immediate action is needed to prevent coverage rates from falling further, because the potential re-emergence of disease outbreaks also poses a serious risk to all of society," Gough said.
by Juan José Rodríguez, AFP