Author(s): United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Published: June 27, 2019
“Childhood vaccinations save lives. Prior to the introduction of vaccines, millions of children died or suffered long-term disabilities from diseases such as diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, meningitis and pertussis. Most of these diseases are highly contagious, spreading quickly through populations, with often devastating consequences. Immunization programmes benefit each vaccinated child and halt the transmission of diseases to others. When a high proportion of the population living in a community is immunized, the ability of pathogens to reproduce is disrupted and ‘herd’ or ‘social’ immunity develops. Herd immunity protects members of the community who are unable to be vaccinated, such as newborns and individuals with compromised immune systems. Drops in vaccination coverage under the threshold needed for herd immunity leaves populations vulnerable to disease outbreaks and epidemics. The wave of measles outbreaks making news headlines this year in many countries including the United States is the result of such dips in coverage in specific population groups and local areas.
Immunization prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year. Safe and effective vaccines are widely available, often free of cost to families through routine immunization services. However, in 2017, an estimated 19.9 million infants missed out on vaccines such as three doses of DTP vaccine. Most of these children live in conflict-affected or insecure communities, among the urban poor or in remote rural areas, with little to no access to immunization services. It is every child’s right to be fully vaccinated, yet the world is falling short on delivering on this promise.
The remarkable increase in vaccination coverage levels around the world over the past three decades is a success story to be celebrated. It is a story of what can be achieved through strong political commitment and leadership, adequate and reliable financing that enables countries to plan long term, and efficient coordination between country governments and development partners. Yet the stagnation of around 85 per cent coverage globally and uneven progress across countries – with some countries such as Syria experiencing precipitous declines, and others, such as India, showing improvements – is an alarm bell that must be answered by us all, both swiftly and collectively.”