Within our reach? Getting vaccines to zero dose children

Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Vaccines have prevented 50 million deaths in low and middle income countries over the last 20 years. They have also averted about 20 million COVID-19 deaths within the first 12 months of history’s largest ever vaccine rollout. But COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on services for health and immunization worldwide. Three years on, the pandemic has caused a backslide in routine immunization, throwing off-track the global immunization goal of halving the number of unvaccinated children, by 2030.

Even before COVID-19, 1 in 8 children were zero-dose, that is children who had never received a vaccine of any kind. Most were from traditionally marginalized communities who were already outside the circle of access to immunization and other health services, and they accounted for nearly half of all vaccine-preventable deaths. In 2021 alone, pandemic related lockdowns and misinformation pushed another 5 million children into the zero-dose category – a 37% increase in unvaccinated children. Today an estimated 18 million children are falling ill, dying or are defenseless against deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. Polio and measles are resurfacing in countries where decades of investment and effort had previously eliminated them.

As part of Internews’ vaccine journalism initiative supported by the Sabin Vaccine Institute we call the attention of journalists in South Asia to the renewed focus to boost routine immunization in the region for those most in need. In this discussion, our experts identify challenges and opportunities in reaching zero-dose children and provide tips on how journalists can tell these urgent stories.