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BACKGROUND: Global routine childhood vaccine coverage has plateaued in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted immunisation services. We estimated global and regional inequality of routine childhood vaccine coverage from 2019 to 2021, particularly assessing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: We used longitudinal data for 11 routine childhood vaccines from the WHO-UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage (WUENIC), including 195 countries and territories in 2019-2021. The slope index of inequality (SII) and relative index of inequality (RII) of each vaccine were calculated through linear regression to express the difference in coverage between the top and bottom 20% of countries at the global and regional levels. We also explored inequalities of routine childhood vaccine coverage by WHO regions and unvaccinated children by income groups. FINDINGS: Globally between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2021, most childhood vaccines showed a declining trend in coverage, and therefore an increasing number of unvaccinated children, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. Between-country inequalities existed for all 11 routine childhood vaccine coverage indicators. The SII for the third dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis-containing vaccine (DTP3) coverage was 20.1 percentage points (95% confidence interval: 13.7, 26.5) in 2019, and rose to 23.6 (17.5, 30.0) in 2020 and 26.9 (20.0, 33.8) in 2021. Similar patterns were found for RII results and in other routine vaccines. In 2021, the second dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV2) coverage had the highest global absolute inequality (31.2, [21.5-40.8]), and completed rotavirus vaccine (RotaC) coverage had the lowest (7.8, [-3.9, 19.5]). Among six WHO regions, the European Region consistently had the lowest inequalities, and the Western Pacific Region had the largest inequalities for many indicators, although both increased from 2019 to 2021. INTERPRETATION: Global and regional inequalities of routine childhood vaccine coverage persisted and substantially increased from 2019 to 2021. These findings reveal economic-related inequalities by vaccines, regions, and countries, and underscore the importance of reducing such inequalities. These inequalities were widened during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in even lower coverage and more unvaccinated children in low-income countries. FUNDING: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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COVID-19 pandemic, Global child health, Inequality, Vaccine coverage