The coverage rate for DPT3, the third dose of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccines, in India rose to an all-time of 93% in 2022, surpassing the previous pre-pandemic best of 91% recorded in 2019, and also marking a sharp increase from the 85% recorded in 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The WHO and UNICEF estimates for national immunisation coverage for 2022, released on July 18, showed that in the WHO South-East Asia Region, the coverage rate for DPT3 recovered to the pre-pandemic level of 91%, a sharp increase from the 82% recorded in 2021. The region also witnessed a six per cent improvement in the coverage of the measles vaccine, rising to 92% in 2022 from 86% in 2021.
In this region, the number of zero-dose children (those that have not received even the first dose of DPT vaccine) halved to 2.3 million in 2022 from 4.6 million in 2021.
Similarly, the number of partially vaccinated children (those that have received at least one dose of DPT vaccine but did not complete the primary series of three doses) reduced to 6,50,000 in 2022 from 1.3 million in 2021.
As per the report, the region had the best immunisation recoveries among all the WHO regions. This can be majorly attributed to the efforts being made by India and Indonesia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said.
She said every child deserved to be protected against life-threatening diseases with routine immunisation, adding that the momentum built with impressive efforts and immunisation service, recoveries must continue to benefit every child for a healthy and productive life.
Indonesia reported a DPT3 coverage of 85% in 2022, the same as in 2019, but rising sharply from the 67% recorded in 2021. Bhutan recorded 98% and Maldives 99%, surpassing their pre-pandemic immunisation rates.
Bangladesh with 98% and Thailand 97% demonstrated consistency in routine immunisation coverage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the WHO report said.
Sri Lanka with 98% coverage, Nepal with 90% and Timor-Leste with 86% were closer to the pre-pandemic coverage of 99%, 93% and 90%, respectively.
Myanmar with 71% DPT3 coverage in 2022, was far from the pre-pandemic 90% coverage in 2019, the report noted.
Due to border restrictions enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic in North Korea, national vaccine stock-outs were reported in 2021 and 2022, leading to no vaccination at all for several antigens. However, with the country receiving vaccines early this year, the coverage is expected to increase, the WHO said.
“While we draw lessons from the pandemic to strengthen capacities to respond to future health emergencies, we must learn from countries which maintained their immunisation rates even while responding to a pandemic,” Dr. Singh said.
The South-East Asia regional office noted that while overall immunisation coverage levels were looking good, and the progress encouraging, there remained variabilities in the coverage at subnational levels in countries, especially in those with large populations.
The inequities in immunisation coverage leading to accumulation of pockets of unvaccinated children posed the risk of outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, and other vaccine-preventable diseases, the WHO said, adding that these gaps should be closed.
Countries and partners agencies must continue to and scale up efforts to identify the unvaccinated children, strengthen capacities of the health workforce, better understand, and engage with vulnerable populations and roll out tailored strategies to reach each child with the lifesaving routine immunization vaccines, Dr. Singh said.