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20 April 2023

  • Confidence in childhood vaccines slipped 7.5% in Australia since the pandemic began - from 93.8% confidence pre-COVID, to 86.3% post-COVID.
  • The pandemic caused the largest sustained drop globally in childhood immunisation in 30 years.
  • 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.

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

UNICEF’s flagship global report released today, 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.

Alice Hall, Director of International Programs for UNICEF Australia, said that while actual rates of immunisation in Australia are close to meeting a 95% target, 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,” said Ms Hall. 

“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 should remain committed to strengthening routine immunisation efforts as a contribution to our 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. 

As the biggest purchaser of vaccines globally – reaching nearly half the world’s children – UNICEF knows how difficult it can be to reach children for routine vaccinations in warzones, remote locations and emergencies. 

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.