(Photo courtesy of Gavi)

Did you know?

There are nearly 20 million un-vaccinated and under-vaccinated children in the world today.

“Over the last two years, the world has seen multiple outbreaks of measles, diptheria and various other vaccine-preventable diseases,” states the World Health Organization.

An estimated 6.3 million children under the age of 15 years died in 2017. 5.4 million of them were under the age of five and 2.5 million of those children died within the first month of life.

This translates to nearly 15,000 children under-five dying every day.

The most frightening aspect of this is that more than half of these early childhood deaths were due to conditions that could have been prevented or treated with access to simple and affordable interventions, including vaccinations, adequate nutrition, sanitation and hygiene.

Why? Well, the leading cause of death in children under five years of age are pre-term birth complications are:

  • Pneumonia
  • Birth asphyxia
  • Diarrhoea and
  • Malaria.

Nutrition-related factors contributed to about 45 per cent of deaths in children under five years of age.

Strengthening health systems will save many young lives

World Immunisation Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of improving vaccination delivery services and increasing the rates of immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases globally. It takes place between April 24-30 each year.

The theme of this year’s campaign is Protected Together: Vaccines Work! 

“Despite the enormous value of immunisation to humankind, significant numbers of infants, children and adults still do not have access to immunisation services and do not reap the benefits that many take for granted,” states the 2017 Assessment Report of the Global Vaccine Action Plan.

“Ensuring that all people gain access to immunisation, regardless of who they are and where they live, remains a fundamental global challenge. Looking forward, this challenge will need to be met in a changing world, characterised by large-scale conflict and civil strife, global warming and natural disasters, economic uncertainty, growing vaccine hesitancy, and multiple displaced and mobile populations,” it continues.  

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and its role

Since its inception in 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has helped developing countries to prevent more than 10 million future deaths through its support for routine immunisation programmes and vaccination campaigns.

Progress in the coverage of some vaccines over the past decade has been impressive, with 85 per cent of children globally now receiving basic vaccinations.  

During 2017, about 85 per cent of infants worldwide (116.2 million infants) received three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine, protecting them against infectious diseases that can cause serious illness, disability, or death in some cases. By 2017, 123 countries had reached at least 90 per cent coverage of DTP3 vaccine, states the World Health Organisation Fact Sheet.

Despite this, an estimated 19.9 million children under the age of one did not receive DTP3 vaccine.

Overcoming barriers to create successful vaccination programs

Regional collaboration and access to technical expertise and experience will help in overcoming barriers to implementing successful vaccination programs.

Australia has an important role as a significant provider of assistance to the Asia-Pacific region, a Board member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and a member of the World Health Assembly, to provide funding and advocacy for action to accelerate progress towards the GVAP goals.

The key goals for 2020 for the Global Vaccine Action Plan:

  • Certification of poliomyelitis eradication (originally by 2018, now likely in 2023)
  • Neonatal tetanus eliminated in all WHO regions. Measles and rubella eliminated in at least five WHO regions.
  • Each country to reach 90 per cent national coverage and 80 per cent in all districts or regions with all vaccines in national programmes.
  • All low-income and middle-income countries have introduced one or more new or underutilised vaccines.
  • Go beyond the Millennium Development Goal for reducing child mortality (a two thirds reduction between 1990 to 2015), towards the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing child mortality rates to no more than 25 per thousand births.  

By helping kids to stay healthy, widespread access to vaccines removes a major barrier to human development. Immunised children have higher cognitive abilities and are more likely to live to see their fifth birthday.

Happy, healthy kids

Immunised kids are more likely to thrive at school and go on to be productive members of society. By reducing illness and long-term disability, vaccines also generate savings for health systems and families. Health workers are freed up to care for other needs and parents spend less time looking after sick children.  The benefits of investing in child vaccination are estimated at 44 times the cost of vaccination programs taking account of all relevant benefits, including reduced treatment costs and increased productivity..

In speaking to constituents or in electorate newsletters, Members of Parliament can promote the benefits of moving towards universal child vaccination, both in Australia and internationally.