28 April 2018
Written by Becky Parry
This year’s World Immunisation Week theme, ‘Protected Together, #VaccinesWork’, highlights the role that we all have in making sure everyone is protected from vaccine preventable diseases. The campaign has three key aims:
The Importance of Immunisation
Immunisation is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. A great example of this is the smallpox vaccine, which was key to the eradication of smallpox, a disease that killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone, and there are hopes that several other vaccine-preventable diseases could also be eradicated in the future . From an economic standpoint, recent studies show that for every $1 USD spent on childhood immunisation, $44 USD is returned in economic and social benefits, and if we can increase vaccine coverage in low- and middle-income countries by 2030, we could prevent 24 million people from falling into poverty due to health expenses.
Despite the social and economic benefit of vaccines, 1 in 5 African children lack access to basic vaccines and 19.5 million infants around the world are either unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. This leaves a huge number of children vulnerable to a number of potentially life-threatening diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). We must work together to close this gap and work towards a world where every child is vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Value of a Life Course Approach to Vaccines
When no one is immunised, disease easily spreads through the population. However, when most of the population is immunised against a particular disease, that disease is unable to spread as easily because there are fewer people left to infect; this is called herd protection. Immunisation is therefore a shared responsibility and we are ‘Protected Together’.
This is one of the reasons why CoMO endorses a life-course approach to meningitis vaccinations. As meningitis can affect anyone of any age, we advocate that meningitis vaccines are needed from childhood and adolescence into adulthood - this approach helps to protect whole communities, with those more vulnerable individuals, such as new-borns, being protected by those around them, such as their grandparents  . Find out more about our Life Course Immunisation Initiative here.
Driving Vaccine Progress
Some diseases aren’t vaccine-preventable because an effective vaccine has yet to be developed. For example, experts predict that a group B Streptococcal vaccine, which could prevent over 100,000 baby deaths worldwide, is up to 10 years away from development. Likewise, measles is a potentially eradicable disease, but there is a lack of suitable effective measles vaccines for young infants.
Although currently available vaccines could prevent more than 90% of bacterial meningitis cases, many people do not have access to these potentially life-saving vaccines because they are not on their countries’ vaccination schedules. Much progress has been made in making meningitis vaccines more readily accessible. For example:
However, despite these incredible successes, there is still much work to be done all over the world to ensure that all individuals are able to receive the necessary meningitis vaccines.
Driving vaccine progress will also help combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR happens when microorganisms (such as bacteria and viruses) change after they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics and antivirals), making them ‘resistant’ to that drug. Because the microorganism is ‘resistant’ to drugs, it becomes difficult or impossible to treat the disease it has caused - in 2016 alone, 490, 000 people developed multi-drug resistant TB globally. Vaccines can help combat AMR because they reduce the number of people with the disease, so the microbes have fewer opportunities to multiply and evolve into drug-resistant strains.
This World Immunisation Week, we encourage you to promote the importance of vaccines and raise awareness of how, when we are ‘Protected Together, #Vaccines Work’.
Cases of polio have decreased by 99.9% between 1988 and 2017 from 300,000 reported cases to 22. This large reduction is largely credited to the introduction of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
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Becky works at CoMO's Head Office in the UK and provides communications, event and administrative support. She studied Philosophy at the University of Sussex and has a Masters in Human Rights. Becky has a background in international development and has worked for a variety of charitable organisations throughout her career.