Global childhood vaccination rates have taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 25 million children missing at least one vaccine in 2021 alone. This has led to a rise in preventable diseases like measles, polio, and yellow fever, endangering millions of children’s lives. To combat this situation, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Immunization Agenda 2030, and other health partners have launched a campaign called “The Big Catch-up.”
“The Big Catch-up” campaign aims to reverse the declines in childhood vaccination rates recorded in over 100 countries since the pandemic began. Factors contributing to the decline in coverage rates include overburdened health services, closed clinics, disrupted imports and exports of medical supplies, lockdowns, travel restrictions, limited financial and human resources, and vaccine hesitancy. The campaign calls on people and governments worldwide to help reach the children who missed out on vaccines, protect populations from vaccine-preventable outbreaks, save children’s lives, and strengthen national health systems.
While every country is encouraged to participate, the campaign will mainly focus on the 20 countries where three-quarters of the children who missed vaccinations in 2021 live. India and Uganda are among the few countries that have maintained high coverage levels during the pandemic. The campaign aims to build on its successes to reach groups in vulnerable situations. Collaborations with community health workers and local leaders in Kenya have improved immunization levels among nomadic populations in the country’s north.
Collaborators are collaborating with nations to enhance healthcare workforces, enhance the provision of healthcare services, promote trust and acceptance of vaccines among communities, and overcome barriers and challenges to the resumption of immunization. The campaign also calls for intensified efforts to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to adolescents to prevent cervical cancer, particularly in low- and middle-income countries with the highest burden.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, emphasized the significance of catching up on vaccinations and underscored that “the death of any child from a vaccine-preventable disease is unacceptable.” Catherine Russell, the Executive Director of UNICEF, further warned that the longer we delay reaching and vaccinating these children, the more vulnerable they become, and the greater the risk of more lethal disease outbreaks. Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, urged global health partners, governments, and communities to take every possible action to safeguard the lives of all children.
“The Big Catch-up” campaign offers hope for children who have missed out on life-saving vaccinations due to the pandemic. With global partners working together to strengthen health systems, build trust in communities, and address vaccine hesitancy, millions of children will have the opportunity to receive the vaccines they need to protect them from preventable diseases and lead healthier lives.