Despite spectacular recent progress, immunization has not reached its full potential. At least 2 million people in all age groups die every year from diseases preventable by vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Another 2.1 million people die each year of diseases for which vaccines are expected soon (rotavirus, pneumococcus and meningococcus). Because global immunization coverage has not yet reached the goal of 90% nationally and 80% within each district, 27 million infants were not immunized1 in 2004, putting them at risk for life-threatening illnesses.
Immunization should be advanced mainly because of health, ethical and economic reasons. All people must benefit from vaccines, including newly developed vaccines. A 2005 Harvard study found "powerful new sources of economic returns from immunization."2 Two leading causes of cancer deaths in adulthood (liver and cervical cancers) can now be prevented by vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus infections. Delivery of immunization services provides an excellent conduit for delivering other life-saving health interventions, such as those against malaria, malnutrition and intestinal worms, and strengthening health systems.
The opportunities / the solutions
- Excellent track record: vaccination has been one of most successful and cost-effective public health interventions in recent history with the eradication of smallpox, the reduction in the global incidence of polio by 99% since 1988 and dramatic decreases in other illnesses and deaths. Worldwide vaccination coverage in 1980 was very low (20%), but now stands at 78%.1
- Measurable results at a relatively low cost: in just six years (1999–2004) measles deaths were cut by 48% globally and by 60% in Africa. It costs less than US$ 1 to immunize a child against measles.
- Potential to save millions more lives: immunization currently averts more than 2 million deaths annually and is essential to reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on reducing child mortality. With sustained and appropriate efforts backed by financial support, by 2015 immunization could be preventing 4–5 million deaths a year.
- Unprecedented investments: the international community has established an effective financial mechanism, through the GAVI Alliance, for helping the poorest countries improve their immunization systems and introduce new vaccines.
Filling current funding gaps and ensuring sustainable long-term financing, in addition to political commitment from the G8 will facilitate immunization's contribution to reaching the MDG on reducing child mortality.
- Ten million additional lives could be saved through child and maternal immunization from 2006–2015 at an average annual cost of US$ 1 billion.
- US$ 35 billion is needed to achieve the goal of saving 10 million additional lives over the next decade in the 72 poorest countries. There is currently a US$ 10–15 billion shortfall.
- WHO and UNICEF have produced a 10-year immunization framework: the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS), 2006–2015. GIVS aims to expand the benefits of immunization to all people so that immunization contributes to MDGs, global security and cancer prevention. For more information on GIVS, please see web site below.
- WHO is providing technical support to countries ― assisting with the design, financing and implementation of strengthened sustainable national immunization programmes.
1With three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, which is an indicator for receipt of other vaccines as well.
2Bloom DE, Canning D, Weston M. The Value of Vaccination. World Economics, Vol. 6, No. 3, July-September 2005, 15-39.