Uneven routine immunization coverage threatens the health of South Africa’s youngest children

COVID-19 and related lockdowns drastically reduced vaccination coverage among children under five-years, catch-up drives are bringing rates up, but coverage remains sporadic.


PRETORIA, 26 April 2021 – The drop in routine immunization coverage among children under five years of age, over the past 13-months, could lead to a resurgence of vaccine preventable childhood diseases, as community vaccination coverage is compromised.

The latest National Department of Health data, from 12 priority districts* over a period of three months, November 2020 to January 2021, shows that measles 2nd dose and Hexavalent 3rd dose coverage falls consistently below the respective 90% and 80% targets needed for maximum effect. Out of the 12 districts, only three met the measles second dose target, but none of them across all three months and only two met the Hexavalent 3rd dose coverage target of 80% in all three months. 

“The broad ranging impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of children is laid bare when we look at routine vaccination rates,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. “We need to renew our focus on child health services and promote the use of vaccines to protect children from preventable diseases,” added Muhigana.

The call comes during this year’s World Immunization Week, 24-30 April, with the theme, ‘Vaccines bring us closer’ urging greater engagement around immunization globally to promote the importance of vaccination in bringing people together, and improving the health and wellbeing of everyone, everywhere, throughout life.

UNICEF South Africa is supporting the expansion of the vaccine catch-up drive, which now covers 52 districts, through technical and monitoring support. In addition, UNICEF is supporting COVID-19 vaccination work through cold chain specialists; training for cold chain managers; participation in developing the vaccination field guide; and communication work promoting vaccines and adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures.

To help spread the word online about the effectiveness of vaccines, UNICEF is joining with global partners and funders to rally parents, health workers and the public to become online advocates for vaccines.

For every like, share or comment on posts mentioning a UNICEF social media account and using the hashtag #VaccinesWork from now until the end of April, the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate US$ 1 to UNICEF – up to a total of US$5 million – to ensure all children get the life-saving vaccines they need.

Media Contacts
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Children’s Fund