April 20-26 is World Immunization Week. Sponsored by the World Health Organization, World Immunization Week is intended to raise awareness and support for one of the world’s most powerful tools for health – vaccines.
Immunization is an extremely successful and cost-effective health intervention, preventing an estimated 2 million to 3 million deaths each year. In addition to saving lives, vaccines save money by avoiding the health care costs and lost productivity that accompany illness. Thanks to the global immunization campaign led by WHO, smallpox was completely eradicated in 1980 – the first disease so classified. Polio, another vaccine-preventable disease, is close to being eradicated. In fact, during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, Jos Vandelaer, MD, MPH, director of UNICEF’s Global Immunization Program, said that polio could be eradicated by 2014.
Despite these successes, significant challenges remain. More than 22 million children are still incompletely vaccinated at 12 months of age, in part due to logistical difficulties with storing, maintaining the safe temperature of, and transporting vaccines in low-resource settings. Moving forward, it is critical that governments worldwide adopt strategies to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines and support research to improve the global vaccine supply chain. Additionally, vaccines simply do not exist for many diseases, including a majority of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) which affect more than 1.6 billion people worldwide. More research investment is necessary to develop the next generation of vaccines and technology that could have the power to prevent NTDs and other global diseases.
– Morgan McCloskey, global health intern