Health

April 24, 2024

Global immunisation efforts saved over 154m lives in 50 years – Study

Global immunisation efforts saved over 154m lives in 50 years – Study

By Chioma Obinna

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world on Wednesday to mark this year’s World Immunisation Week, a landmark study has revealed that global immunisation efforts have saved an estimated 154 million lives, the equivalent of 6 lives every minute per year over the past 50 years.

Out of the vast majority of lives saved, 101 million were infants, according to the study to be published by The Lancet.

The study, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), showed that immunisation was the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensure babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood.

Of the vaccines included in the study, the measles vaccination had the most significant impact on reducing infant mortality, accounting for 60 per cent of the lives saved due to immunisation. This vaccine will likely remain the top contributor to preventing deaths in the future.

Over the past 50 years, vaccination against 14 diseases (diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever) has directly contributed to reducing infant deaths by 40 per cent globally and by more than 50 per cent in the African Region.

The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable.

According to him, “Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing back the frontiers of disease. With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”

The researchers found that for each life saved through immunisation, an average of 66 years of full health were gained with a total of 10.2 billion full health years have been gained over the past five decades.

It also found that as a result of vaccination against polio, more than 20 million people can walk today who would otherwise have been paralysed, and the world is on the verge of eradicating polio. and for all.

These gains in childhood survival highlight the importance of protecting immunization progress in every country of the world and accelerating efforts to reach the 67 million children who missed out on one or more vaccines during the pandemic years.

Meanwhile, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) to take place in May 2024, the study is the most comprehensive analysis of the programme’s global and regional health impact over the past five decades.

The study highlights that fewer than 5 per cent of infants globally had access to routine immunisation when EPI was launched. Today, 84 per cent of infants are protected with three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) – the global market for immunization coverage.

Nearly 94 million of the estimated 154 million lives saved since 1974, were a result of protection by measles vaccines. Yet, there were still 33 million children who missed a measles vaccine dose in 2022: nearly 22 million people missed their first dose and an additional 11 million missed their second dose.

Coverage of 95 per cent or greater with 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed to protect communities from outbreaks. Currently, the global coverage rate of the first dose of measles vaccine is 83 per cent and the second dose is 74 per cent, contributing to a very high number of outbreaks across the world.

Speaking, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, said: “Thanks to vaccinations, more children now survive and thrive past their fifth birthday than at any other point in history. This massive achievement is a credit to the collective efforts of governments, partners, scientists, healthcare workers, civil society, volunteers and parents themselves, all pulling in the same direction of keeping children safe from deadly diseases. We must build on the momentum and ensure that every child, everywhere, has access to life-saving immunisations.”

UNICEF, as one of the largest buyers of vaccines in the world, procures more than 2 billion doses every year on behalf of countries and partners to reach almost half of the world’s children.

Gavi has helped protect a whole generation of children and now provides vaccines against 20 infectious diseases, including the HPV vaccine and vaccines for outbreaks of measles, cholera, yellow fever, Ebola and meningitis.

The CEO of Gavi, Dr Sania Nishtar, said: “Gavi was established to build on the partnership and progress made possible by EPI, intensifying focus on protecting the most vulnerable around the world. In a little over two decades we have seen incredible progress in protecting more than a billion children, helping halve childhood mortality in these countries, and providing billions in economic benefits.  

“Vaccines are truly the best investment we can make in ensuring everyone, no matter where they are born, has an equal right to a healthy future: we must ensure these efforts are fully funded to protect the progress made and help countries address current challenges of their immunisation programmes.”

Saving millions more is “Humanly possible.”

The WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and BMGF have unveiled a campaign tagged: “Humanly Possible”, a joint campaign marking the annual World Immunisation Week of April 24–30, 2024.

President of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Chris Elias, said the worldwide communication campaign calls on world leaders to advocate, support and fund vaccines and the immunisation programmes that deliver these lifesaving products, reaffirming their commitment to public health while celebrating one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

Elias said the next 50 years of EPI will require not only reaching the children missing out on vaccines, but protecting grandparents from influenza, mothers from tetanus, adolescents from HPV and everyone from TB, and many other infectious diseases.

“It’s inspiring to see what vaccines have made possible over the last 50 years, thanks to the tireless efforts of governments, global partners and health workers to make them more accessible to more people,” “We cannot let this incredible progress falter. By continuing to invest in immunisation, we can ensure that every child and every person has the chance to live a healthy and productive life.”