New global campaign boosts lifesaving vaccines



The Humanly Possible joint global communication campaign aims to boost vaccination programmes around the world, with support from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Thanks to vaccinations, more children now survive and thrive past their fifth birthday than at any other point in history,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Indeed, global immunisation programmes have shown what is humanly possible when many stakeholders, including world leaders, regional and global health agencies, scientists, charities, aid agencies, businesses and communities work together.

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

“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,” he said. “With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”

© UNICEF/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

A child receives a dose of polio vaccine in Madagascar.

154 million lives already saved

A landmark study to be published by British medical journal The Lancet reveals that global immunisation efforts have already saved an estimated 154 million lives over that past five decades, 101 million of them infants.

That’s the equivalent of six lives saved every minute of every year over the past 50 years.

Led by WHO, the study showed that immunisation is the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood.

Measles vaccines had the most significant impact on reducing infant mortality, according to the study, which also showed that vaccination against this and 13 other diseases – among them diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis and yellow fever – directly contributed to reducing infant deaths by 40 per cent globally and by more than 50 per cent in the African region over the past half century.

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 gained over the five decades, wrote the authors of the study, which is expected to be released ahead of the 50th anniversary of the expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) next month.

Girls await their turns to get immunised at Rusung Raya Elementary School in Indonesia.

© UNICEF/Clark

Girls await their turns to get immunised at Rusung Raya Elementary School in Indonesia.

Protecting a generation of children

In 2000, WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were core founding members of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, which was created to expand the impact of EPI and help the world’s poorest countries increase coverage; benefit from new, lifesaving vaccines, and expand the breadth of protection against an increasing number of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Today, Gavi has helped to protect a whole generation of children and now provides vaccines against 20 infectious diseases, said the alliance’s chief executive officer Dr. Sania Nishtar.

“In a little over two decades, we have seen incredible progress, protecting more than a billion children, helping halve childhood mortality in these countries and providing billions in economic benefits,” she said.

Delivering vaccines along the last mile

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

To increase immunisation coverage, UNICEF also works to distribute vaccines to the last mile, sometimes using camels, to ensure that even remote and underserved communities have access to immunisation services.

The agency’s chief said it’s all about working together.

“We must build on the momentum and ensure that every child, everywhere, has access to lifesaving immunisations,” Ms. Russell said.

That’s the ultimate goal of World Immunisation Week: for more people and their communities to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Learn more about what’s going on this week here.

  • Promote mental health and wellbeing and strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse
  • Reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from pollution, contamination and tobacco
  • Achieve universal health coverage, and provide access to affordable, essential vaccines and medicines
  • Reduce global maternal mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births and under-five mortality to at least 25 per 1,000 live births
  • End epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and combat hepatitis and other communicable diseases

Sustainable development hinges on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing at all ages.

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