Childhood ImmunizationImmunization is among the most effective public health interventions available and, in recent decades, vaccines have contributed to significant reductions in the childhood disease burden globally, saving up to three million children a year.

More children than ever before now live healthy lives because of immunization. Four out of five children around the world receive vaccinations against deadly diseases like tuberculosis, polio, measles, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

Coverage with the third dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP3) is commonly used to measure the strength and reach of routine childhood immunization programs because this requires reaching children with the vaccines three times at appropriate intervals. Since 2010, 85 percent of the world’s children received the required three doses of DTP3 and in 2015 this figure rose to 86 percent. The results show major successes in immunization programs in many countries.

However, several countries are still lagging behind. An estimated 19.4 million children are still missing out on basic vaccines and 1.5 million of these children die each year from preventable diseases. Of the children not reached by immunization in 2015, 60 percent lived in 10 countries: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Ukraine. Iraq and Ukraine entered the list due to the result of conflict on their health systems.

While national immunization coverage rates are high in most countries, there are still gaps in coverage within countries between the richest and the poorest populations. A recent WHO report found that several countries have a DTP3 coverage gap of more than 20 percentage points between poor and rich children.

In many countries, vaccine coverage varies according to geographical, socioeconomic or demographic factors of children. Children living in impoverished areas of cities or remote rural regions, as well as children of mothers with a low-level of education, are less likely to receive vaccines. Increasingly, childhood immunization efforts are being refocused to reduce inequalities that exist between countries, as well as inequalities that exist between the poorest and wealthiest populations within countries.

In 2012, the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) was approved by all 194 member states of the World Health Assembly (WHA). GVAP is a roadmap to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through more equitable access to vaccines for people in all communities.

GVAP aims to extend immunization to everyone during the so-called Decade of Vaccines (2011-2020) by ensuring adequate resources, developing supportive health systems and infrastructure, training health workers to reach remote and marginalized populations and developing new and improved vaccines and technologies that will maximize the benefits of immunization.

Childhood immunization rates have improved greatly over the last few decades, with renewed focus on closing the remaining gap in access to vaccines between countries and within national populations.

-Helena Jacobs

Photo: Flickr

In some of the most rural areas of the world, people suffer from preventable diseases due to exposer to unsanitary drinking water and poor living conditions. While organizations continue the fight to bring clean water and food to these areas, it is also important that rural populations have access to vaccinations to help them combat these diseases. According to UNICEF, immunizations have the potential to save up to three million children yearly. However, there has been a decline in the progress of maintaining the spread of vaccinations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to improve the distribution of immunizations in developing countries. According to the WHO, all of the 194 member states belonging to the WHO endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2012. Moreover, member states have set goals to eliminate six diseases by the end of 2015. Although there continues to be a gap with one in five children missing vaccines, WHO hopes to see a world free of preventable diseases by 2020.

The goal to spread vaccination around the world by 2020 is also known as the Decade of Vaccines– implemented in 2011 and already eliciting substantial progress. The Gates Foundation has invested in vaccines and immunizations to help achieve the goals of the Decade of Vaccines. The Foundation understands the restrictions that keep vaccinations from people in rural areas, especially since some vaccines need refrigeration which is lacking in these places.  The Gates Foundation  continues to “support the innovation needed to develop new vaccines and new delivery technologies and approaches.”

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) also continues to take action against vaccine-preventable diseases, disability and death. It is important “to protect the health of Americans and global citizens by preventing disease, disability, and death through immunization,” says the CDC, as stated in their Global Immunization Strategic Framework for 2011-2015. Organizations like these provide hope that the world will some day be free of preventable diseases. Although there are many places that continue to be hard to reach, the fight to vaccinate the world by 2020 continues in full force.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: UNICEF, WHO, The Gates Foundation, CDC
Photo: Flickr