Vaccines work!

#VaccinesWork, but only if they reach the children who need them!

There’s a wealth of evidence that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways of saving children’s lives, and have a positive impact on child health and development.

However, millions remain unprotected as they live in communities not serviced by health systems, or were born in families or countries unable to afford health for all.

I was at the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) meeting recently, which is a gathering of immunisation experts and enthusiasts from around the world, exploring opportunities to achieve their shared goal of vaccines for all children, everywhere.

Progress on Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) was among the key issues discussed and it’s disappointing to learn that despite all the all the global efforts, only one of the six GVAP targets is on track – the one relating to introduction of new and under-utilized vaccines.

Clearly, a lot more needs to be done to accelerate progress over the next three years when the next stage of GVAP and the Global Immunization Strategy 2021-30 comes into effect.

‘Insufficient progress has been made towards achieving GVAP targets by 2020’, noted SAGE, warning of ‘complacency and inadequate political commitment to immunisation’, and the multiple global and national threats that could potentially reverse progress and hard-won gains.

Introduction of new vaccines has seen the most success, mainly due to support from GAVI – the Vaccine Alliance and partners.

108 low and lower-middle income countries, as compared to the target of 90, have now introduced new vaccines such as those against pneumococcal disease.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of under-five deaths and vaccines could help prevent nearly a million pneumonia deaths by 2020, as we note in our latest report Fighting for Breath.

However, the other five GVAP targets are not on track:

  • More than 19 million children still remain unvaccinated for preventable illnesses such as diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT).
  • About 170 million children are not vaccinated against pneumonia.
  • According to Gavi’s recent progress report, DPT coverage has remained stagnant over the past three years.
  • Only 7% of children in Gavi-supported countries are fully immunised with 11 essential vaccines.
  • Just 16% of these countries meet Gavi’s equity targets for immunisation coverage across all districts – this means the poorest and most marginalised children are being left behind.

Governments and partners need to substantially increase their efforts to improve immunisation coverage and equity if we’re to meet the GVAP goals in its final three years.

Countries need to increase their health budgets, allocating additional funding for immunisation and not at the cost of other services, to sustainably finance vaccines introduced through Gavi support.

This is crucial for sustaining immunisation coverage and equity, as countries transition from Gavi support.

Most childhood vaccines are inexpensive, many cost less than just 10p a dose, yet millions of children around the world are still unable to benefit from them.

This is mainly due to systemic, political, financial, cultural and insecurity-related challenges, but to me, this also reflects the generic complacency towards child rights.

As we celebrate the Children’s Day this week, there is a need to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring equal rights for all children around the world, regardless of who they are, where they come from or where they live.

#VaccinesWork indeed, but only if they reach the children who need them!

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