• Thursday, May 23, 2024
businessday logo


Immunisation saves 154 million in 50 years

Immunisation in Africa: Challenges and strategies to increase uptake and coverage

A major study by the World Health Organization has revealed that global immunisation efforts have saved an estimated 154 million lives – or the equivalent of 6 lives every minute of every year – over the past 50 years. The vast majority of lives saved, 101 million, were infants.

The study shows that immunisation is the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood.

Of the vaccines included in the study, the measles vaccination had the most significant impact on reducing infant mortality, accounting for 60 percent of the lives saved due to immunisation. This vaccine will likely remain the top contributor to preventing deaths in the future.

Over the past 50 years, vaccination against 14 diseases has directly contributed to reducing infant deaths by 40 percent globally, and by more than 50% in the African Region.

“Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing back the frontiers of disease. With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”

The study found that for each life saved through immunization, an average of 66 years of full health were gained – with a total of 10.2 billion full health years gained over the five decades.

As the result of vaccination against polio, more than 20 million people are able to walk today who would otherwise have been paralysed, and the world is on the verge of eradicating polio, once and for all.

These gains in childhood survival highlight the importance of protecting immunization progress in every country of the world and accelerating efforts to reach the 67 million children who missed out on one or more vaccines during the pandemic years.

Released ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) to take place in May 2024, the study is the most comprehensive analysis of the programme’s global and regional health impact over the past five decades.

Founded in 1974 by the World Health Assembly, EPI’s original goal was to vaccinate all children against diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, as well as smallpox, the only human disease ever eradicated.

Today, the programme, now referred to as the Essential Programme on Immunization, includes universal recommendations to vaccinate against 13 diseases, and context-specific recommendations for another 17 diseases, extending the reach of immunization beyond children, to adolescents and adults.

The study highlights that fewer than 5 percent of infants globally had access to routine immunisation when EPI was launched. Today, 84 percent of infants are protected with three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) – the global marker for immunization coverage.

Nearly 94 million of the estimated 154 million lives saved since 1974, were a result of protection by measles vaccines. Yet, there were still 33 million children who missed a measles vaccine dose in 2022: nearly 22 million missed their first dose and an additional 11 million missed their second dose.

Coverage of 95 percent or greater with 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed to protect communities from outbreaks. Currently, the global coverage rate of the first dose of measles vaccine is 83 percent and the second dose is 74 percent, contributing to a very high number of outbreaks across the world.

To increase immunisation coverage, UNICEF, as one of the largest buyers of vaccines in the world, procures more than 2 billion doses every year on behalf of countries and partners for reaching almost half of the world’s children.

It also works to distribute vaccines to the last mile, ensuring that even remote and underserved communities have access to immunization services.

“Thanks to vaccinations, more children now survive and thrive past their fifth birthday than at any other point in history,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF executive director.

“This massive achievement is a credit to the collective efforts of governments, partners, scientists, healthcare workers, civil society, volunteers and parents themselves, all pulling in the same direction of keeping children safe from deadly diseases. We must build on the momentum and ensure that every child, everywhere, has access to life-saving immunizations.”