vaccine accessibility
Vaccines are second only to clean water in reducing the rate of infectious disease. Vaccines prevent about 6 million deaths every year, and those that have been in use for decades show a 99 percent decrease in the rates of people contracting those diseases. Unfortunately, vaccines are not affordable for many people living in poverty throughout the world, making them much more vulnerable to infectious disease. Several factors contribute to the current lack of vaccine accessibility in many parts of the developing world. However, there are also significant improvements that are being made in decreasing the financial gap between those who receive vaccinations and those who do not, helping make vaccines more accessible to everyone.

The Current Situation

The price of the vaccine doesn’t always reflect the cost: People in developing countries are not only paying for the cost of manufacturing the vaccine, but also for expensive shipping costs, refrigeration, tariffs on imports, and taxes on medical supplies. These additional costs are often much more than the cost of the actual vaccine, and they make what would otherwise be an affordable vaccine inaccessible to a lot of people.

Clinic visits cost money too: In addition to buying the vaccine with all of its fees piled on top, people also have to pay to visit a clinic to receive these vaccines. The hours of health clinics are often inconvenient as well, forcing people to forgo wages from work in order to see a doctor.

Many vaccines require multiple rounds: A lot of vaccines, such as RTSS for malaria, MMR for measles and the HPV vaccine require multiple rounds of vaccination in order to be effective. This simply compounds all of the other barriers to vaccine accessibility; those receiving the vaccine have to pay for treatment again as well as take time off of work to visit a clinic.

Doctors are few and far between: In many parts of the developing world, there are very few doctors, and these doctors are limited in the number of patients they can treat each day. Therefore, even if one can afford to pay for the vaccine and can make it to a clinic, there is no guarantee that they will be able to be seen by a doctor.

Improvements to Vaccine Accessibility

Local health centers’ capacities are being strengthened: Gavi, a non-governmental organization dedicated to providing vaccines to the developing world, is working to strengthen the capacity of existing health centers to deliver immunizations. Gavi is working to increase the proportion of people who are receiving a full cycle of vaccines rather than “dropping out” after the first dose by providing sustainable funding to health clinics across the developing world.

Foreign aid decreases the price of vaccines: Providing foreign aid specifically for vaccines decreases the cost to those receiving treatment, and in turn, spares families from having to pay far more for treatment if someone contracted an infectious disease. Foreign aid for vaccinations has the highest return on investment of any type of aid besides education.

People are going beyond wanting to vaccinate to actually vaccinating: The Poverty Action Lab at MIT is implementing research on how to motivate people from desiring to vaccinate to doing it. This research is increasing the numbers of people receiving preventative immunizations in the developing world and reducing the rates of disease.

Infrastructures to keep vaccines cold for cheaper: The governments of Ethiopia and Gambia have created cold chain infrastructures in order to reduce the cost of transporting vaccines that need to be refrigerated. These infrastructures are far from perfect, as some cold storage facilities in Ethiopia have not been kept as cold as they need to be in order to protect the vaccines.

However, progress is still being made in reducing the cost of vaccines and allowing them to be more accessible to those living in poverty. Gavi is working to implement more cold chain infrastructures in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Moving Forward

There is clearly still a long way to go in ensuring vaccine accessibility to everyone who needs it, but a lot of progress has been made in breaking down the current barriers to accessibility. Vaccines are much cheaper than the cost of treatment for those who have the diseases vaccines aim to prevent, and investing in vaccinations relieves the world’s poor of the additional burden of treatment costs. Vaccines are one of the greatest assets in our toolbox to fight poverty, and great strides are being made in the effort to make accessibility a reality.

Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr