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Confidence in childhood vaccination fell in Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic

A new UNICEF report found that the public perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined in 52 out of 55 countries studied.

IRELAND WAS AMONG over 50 countries around the world that lost confidence in the importance of childhood vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report on immunisation from UNICEF.

According to the report, published today, the public perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined in 52 out of 55 countries studied. 

In Ireland, the perception fell by six percentage points, but support overall remained high at 86%. 

The reduction in confidence was relatively even in terms of age ranges, with confidence among under 35s reducing by 3.4% compared to a 3.1% reduction among 35-65 year olds.

Meanwhile, male confidence reduced by 7.30% compared to female confidence, which fell by 4.8%.

Screenshot (249) UNICEF UNICEF

There was widespread misinformation about Covid-19 shared online during the pandemic. The Journal Factchecked many of these claims, including here, here and here.

The data shows that the perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined by more than a third in the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Senegal and Japan after the start of the pandemic.

China, India and Mexico were the only countries studied where the data indicates the perception of the importance of vaccines held firm or improved.

In most countries, people under 35 and women were more likely to report less confidence about vaccines for children after the start of the pandemic.

The report warned that vaccine confidence is “volatile and time specific” and said that additional data collection and further analysis will be needed to determine if the findings are indicative of a longer-term trend. 

Despite the decline in confidence, more than 80% of respondents in over half of the countries surveyed “perceived vaccines as important for children”.

“At the height of the pandemic, scientists rapidly developed vaccines that saved countless lives. But despite this historic achievement, fear and disinformation about all types of vaccines circulated as widely as the virus itself,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.

“This data is a worrying warning signal. We cannot allow confidence in routine immunisations to become another victim of the pandemic. Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be of more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases.”

The change in the perception of vaccinations came amid the largest sustained backslide in childhood immunisation in 30 years due to pandemic-related disruptions, the report said.

In total, 67 million children missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021. Of those, 48 million didn’t receive a single routine vaccine, also known as “zero-dose”. 

Vaccine coverage levels declined in 112 countries, while the percentage of children vaccinated worldwide slipped 5 points to 81% – a low not seen since 2008. 

As of the end of 2021, India and Nigeria had the largest numbers of zero-dose children, but increases in the numbers of zero-dose children were especially notable in Myanmar and the Philippines, the report said.

UNICEF warned that last year, the number of measles cases was more than double the total in 2021, while the number of children paralysed by polio was up 16% year-on-year in 2022.

“When comparing the 2019 to 2021 period with the previous three-year period, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of children paralysed by polio, highlighting the need to ensure vaccination efforts are sustained,” it said.

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