The number of countries reaching and sustaining 90 percent coverage of children with routine life-saving vaccinations has doubled since 2000. Updated data on the status of immunization worldwide in 2014 reveal that 129 countries, six more than in 2013, now immunize at least 90 percent of their children with the required three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis containing vaccines (DTP3).
In 2012, all 194 WHO member states endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), and committed to ensuring no one misses out on vital immunizations, with a target of 90 percent DTP3 vaccination coverage in all countries by 2015. Earlier this year WHO warned that five of the six targets, including the DTP3 coverage target, contained in the GVAP were worryingly off-track, with only one target, for the introduction of under-utilized vaccines, showing sufficient progress.
The new data highlight the fact that 65 countries will require game changing strategies in order to meet the GVAP goal. Among them, six countries with less than 50 percent coverage with DTP3: Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic.
Worldwide DTP3 immunization coverage stands at 86 percent for all three doses, with 91 percent of infants receiving at least one dose. In 2000, 21 million children did not receive even a first dose of DTP, a figure that has now dropped to 12 million.
Significantly, the updated estimates also show that India, the country with the largest number of unvaccinated children globally, has now achieved over 80% DTP3 coverage. This is largely attributable to the revamping of the national immunization program, following the successful completion of polio eradication three years ago.
The updated estimates show that coverage with some essential vaccines other than DTP, has also improved. The number of children protected from hepatitis B is high worldwide and increasing steadily. While just 30 percent of children received three doses of vaccine against the viral disease in 2000, this rose to 82 percent in 2014, although more needs to be done to ensure that infants receive their birth dose within the first 24 hours of life.
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine is one of the newest recommended vaccines to fight Hib diseases in children globally and has been introduced in all countries except China and Thailand. Coverage, however, is still low at just 56 percent.
The number of countries using other new vaccines, such as rotavirus and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, has increased. However, challenges remain. Only 19 percent of children are protected against rotavirus, despite the fact that some of the countries that have not introduced the vaccine have the largest share of diarrheal diseases.