Immunisation Has Saved Over 145 Million Lives Over 50 Years – Study

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A child being immunised.

Global immunisation endeavours have spared an estimated 154 million lives over the past half-century, a groundbreaking study, set to be published by The Lancet, has revealed. This equates to the remarkable feat of saving six lives every minute of every year. The lion’s share of these lives rescued – a staggering 101 million – belonged to infants.

Led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this study underscores the pivotal role of immunisation in ensuring not just the survival of infants but also their sustained health into adulthood. The findings reveal that vaccination stands as the single most significant contributor among health interventions in safeguarding the lives of infants, with the measles vaccine emerging as the cornerstone in reducing infant mortality, accounting for a substantial 60 per cent of lives saved through immunisation.

Over five decades, vaccination against 14 diseases has directly led to a 40 per cent reduction in infant mortality on a global scale and a more than 50 per cent decrease in the African Region alone. This monumental achievement emphasises the critical importance of preserving and advancing immunisation efforts worldwide, particularly in light of the 67 million children who missed out on one or more vaccines during the pandemic years.

The foundation of this progress lies in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), established in 1974 with the ambitious goal of vaccinating all children against a range of diseases. Today, this initiative – now known as the Essential Programme on Immunisation – has expanded its scope to encompass recommendations for 13 diseases universally and 17 diseases contextually, extending the reach of immunisation beyond children to adolescents and adults.

While only 5 per cent of infants globally had access to routine immunisation when EPI was launched, this figure has soared to an impressive 84% today, signalling a monumental leap in global immunisation coverage. Yet, challenges persist, with millions of children still missing vital vaccine doses, particularly against measles.

To address these gaps, organisations such as UNICEF, a leading procurer of vaccines worldwide, work tirelessly to ensure equitable access to immunisation services, reaching even the most remote and underserved communities. Furthermore, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, established in 2000, has played a pivotal role in expanding the impact of EPI, providing vaccines against 20 infectious diseases and bolstering vaccine equity in the world’s poorest countries.

The collective efforts of global partners have not gone unnoticed. Today, as the world commemorates World Immunisation Week, WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launch the “Humanly Possible” campaign, rallying world leaders to advocate, support, and fund vaccines and immunisation programmes. This campaign celebrates the extraordinary progress achieved over the past 50 years while reaffirming the commitment to safeguarding public health and ensuring a healthier future for all.

As we reflect on the monumental strides made in global immunisation efforts, we are reminded of the incredible potential of vaccines to save lives, shape futures, and transform communities. Through continued investment, collaboration, and unwavering dedication, we can build on this progress and realise the vision of a world where every individual has the opportunity to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

The triumphs of global immunisation efforts extend far beyond the sheer number of lives saved. They represent a beacon of hope in the realm of public health, showcasing what is truly achievable when nations, organisations and communities unite in pursuit of a common goal.

At the heart of this success story lies the monumental impact of vaccination. Through targeted campaigns and sustained investment, vaccines have emerged as one of the most formidable weapons in our arsenal against infectious diseases. From the eradication of smallpox to the near-elimination of polio, vaccines have not only prevented countless deaths but have also transformed the very fabric of our society.

The forthcoming study, spearheaded by The Lancet and led by the World Health Organization (WHO), sheds light on the profound implications of global immunisation efforts. By quantifying the number of lives saved – a staggering 154 million over the past five decades – the study underscores the indispensable role of vaccination in safeguarding public health.

Central to this success is the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), a groundbreaking initiative launched in 1974 with the ambitious aim of vaccinating all children against a range of diseases. Over the years, the scope of the program has expanded significantly, encompassing recommendations for 13 diseases universally and 17 diseases contextually. Today, the Essential Programme on Immunisation continues to serve as a cornerstone of public health infrastructure, ensuring equitable access to lifesaving vaccines for individuals of all ages.

While the achievements of global immunisation efforts are cause for celebration, they also serve as a sobering reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. Despite significant progress, millions of children around the world still lack access to essential vaccines, leaving them vulnerable to preventable diseases. Addressing this disparity requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders – governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector – to bridge the gap and ensure that no child is left behind.

As we commemorate World Immunisation Week, we are reminded of the urgent need to redouble our efforts in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. The “Humanly Possible” campaign, launched by WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, serves as a rallying cry for global leaders to prioritise immunisation and invest in the future of public health. Together, we can build on the remarkable progress of the past 50 years and create a world where vaccines are accessible to all, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status.

In conclusion, the story of global immunisation efforts is one of triumph, resilience and unwavering determination. By harnessing the power of vaccination, we have not only saved lives but have also paved the way for a healthier, more equitable future for generations to come. As we look ahead, let us reaffirm our commitment to immunisation and work tirelessly to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to lead a life free from the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases.

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