Countries that are closer to achieving universal health coverage saw smaller declines in routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic, a new study reveals.
The World Health Organization describes universal health coverage as "all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship."
Researchers were able to use the pandemic as a "natural experiment" to compare differences in childhood immunization coverage based on countries' progress toward universal health coverage.
"Our findings strongly suggest that policymakers should continue to advocate for policies aimed at achieving universal health coverage in coming years," said the study authors, who included Yesim Tozan, an assistant professor at New York University's School of Global Public Health.
"This study also sets the stage for future research in understanding the synergistic impact of investments in global health security and universal health coverage strategies on countries' health system resilience," they said.
The team used immunization data from WHO/UNICEF, which includes information on 195 countries and 14 childhood vaccines between 1997 and 2020.
The study also used the 2019 Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Service Coverage Index, a measure that represents level of coverage.
Countries who had a high UHC index were associated with a 2.7% smaller decline in childhood vaccination coverage during 2020 when compared to countries with a lower UHC index.
Before the pandemic, countries with a high UHC index had an average childhood immunization coverage rate of 92.7%. By comparison, those with a lower UHC index had a coverage rate of 86.2%.
In 2020, the coverage rate was 91.9% in high UHC countries, while it was 81.7% in countries with a lower UHC index.
The findings were published Aug. 16 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the delivery of essential health services across countries worldwide," Tozan said in a journal news release. "This study provided the much-needed quantitative evidence of the protective effects of universal health coverage in times of public health crises."
The World Health Organization has more on universal health coverage.
SOURCE: PLOS Medicine, news release, Aug. 16, 2022