New estimates reveal alarming stagnation in global access to pneumococcal conjugate vaccines

Vaccines for pneumonia are critical tools for helping to reduce the number of childhood deaths around the world. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is a lifesaving vaccine that protects children against pneumonia, the number one infectious killer amongst children under 5.

According to the recently released WUENIC data, just 51% of infants in the world received a full course of PCV in 2021, showing global access has stagnated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coverage of PCV, full course, globally (2021, WUENIC)

Global access to PCVs has stagnated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, such that only 1 in 2 children worldwide received a full course of the vaccine in 2021.

The global statistic masks yawning disparities across regions and between high- and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Despite substantial progress among LMICs over the last decade, many of which were aided by support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, several such countries with high rates of pneumonia-related deaths have yet to introduce PCV into their respective national immunization schedules.

Many remaining barriers are country- and context-specific, however financial barriers are a common challenge for governments in introducing the PCV. The International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) recently co-signed a letter to Gavi, calling for the board to lift the $US 1 million-worth co-financing requirement, a “stumbling block” that is preventing the children of high-burden countries such as Somalia, Guinea, South Sudan, and Chad from being protected against pneumonia. 

As the sobering new estimates for global coverage of PCV reveal, the COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions have further slowed progress and set back plans for new vaccine introduction and scale up. The backsliding is especially alarming among routine immunization such as DTP and measles vaccines. The WUENIC data show that in 2021, 25 million children missed out on one or more doses of DTP, which is 2 million more than in 2020 and 6 million more than in 2019.

The world must double their efforts and act urgently to ensure the world’s children are protected against pneumococcal diseases, especially pneumonia. While survival through childhood in many nations is threatened by complex challenges caused by natural or political disasters, we can no longer be complacent about needless suffering and death caused by vaccine-preventable illnesses. With continued, concerted, and concentrated action, we can ensure no child perishes from pneumonia.

Read the press release from WHO and UNICEF: COVID-19 pandemic fuels largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades

For more information about IVAC’s work to accelerate childhood access to PCVs worldwide, contact Dr. Anita Shet.

Photo at top: A child in Patan Academy of Health Sciences, in Kathmandu, Nepal, awaits a dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Nepal introduced PCV in 2014. Courtesy of Amanda Mustard/PneumoNepal.