State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunizations: An All-Time High, but Still Need Work Reaching Children in Developed Countries

The world’s immunization rate is at an all-time high with more than 106 million children vaccinated, according to the State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunizations released Wednesday.

According to findings published by the World Health Organization (WHO), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, 2.5 million of childhood deaths under the age of five are caused by diseases preventable by immunization. Their goal is to vaccinate the remaining 24 million children who still don’t receive vaccinations.

“Historically, this report highlights unprecedented global progress in immunization,” said Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, Chief of the Immunization Unit at Pan American Health Organization. “Never before have greater than 106 million children been immunized with the package vaccines against infectious diseases that kill children.”

Panelists agreed that the best way to fight childhood disease is to continue funding immunization programs. They estimate a total of $1 billion is needed within the next 10 years to cover the rising costs of vaccines.  The funds would come from a variety of sources including national governments, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs and other donors.

“This isn’t costly if you think about the whole health system,” said Saad Houry, deputy executive director of UNICEF.

Houry said on average, it costs about $18 to immunize one child. In the 1980s, it cost between $3.50 and $5. The rise, he said, comes from the increasing cost of pharmaceuticals, resources, and maintenance of the vaccines.

“All good things cost money, and the costs are rising,” said Rakesh Nangia of The World Bank.

Although costs are going up, the world’s supply of vaccines are going up as well.

Fifty percent of unimmunized children come from areas where vaccines are produced, like China and India. Since 2000, the global vaccine market almost tripled, marking the vaccine market was one of the fastest-growing sectors of industry.

Nangia says the problem isn’t the amount of vaccines, but in their delivery to places that need it most.

“In many cases, the systems of delivery are extremely weak,” said Nangia.

Because of the hike in cost and distribution problem, panelists said the timing is critical to put vaccination funding first.

“We are at a crossroads where decisions and actions must be made which have enormous implications on the future of the world’s poor,” said Andrus, referring to the global economic crisis and H1N1 pandemic.

Both Andrus and Dr. Stephen Blount of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the H1N1 pandemic is less of a concern than major childhood diseases like meningitis, pneumonia and polio. However, the global community’s reaction to the Swine Flu could divert WHO’s efforts to fund other major diseases.

“We are in the midst of a global influenza pandemic that could potentially divert our resources and our attention…our priorities,” Andrus said.

UNICEF said the numbers show a strong increase in child immunizations, going from 20 percent in 1980 to 82 percent today. The report noted two major developments, including the HPV vaccine and experimental HIV vaccinations.

“We have more vaccines than ever before,” said Daisy Mafubelu, of Family and Community Health at WHO. “This is about saving lives in those hard to reach places. I see and hear and smell opportunity, but we can’t do it alone.”

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