World Immunization Week is a global public health campaign to raise awareness and increase rates of immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases around the world. It takes place each year during last week of April. This year World Immunization Week, holding between 24-30 April, WHO highlights recent gains in immunization coverage, and outlines further steps countries can take to “Close the Immunization Gap” and meet global vaccination targets by 2020.
In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), a commitment to ensure that no one misses out on vital immunizations. According to WHO, immunization prevents 2 to 3 million deaths annually; however, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage improves. Today, an estimated 18.7 million infants – nearly 1 in 5 children worldwide are still missing routine immunizations for preventable diseases.
Achievements made so far
Despite challenges imposed by Ebola, including for routine immunization coverage, the African Region became one-step closer to being certified polio-free with the removal of Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries. As recently as 2012, the country accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Now, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – remain polio endemic.
The Region of the Americas became the first to eliminate rubella, a contagious viral disease that can cause multiple birth defects as well as fetal death when contracted by women during pregnancy. Additionally, 5 years after the introduction of an affordable conjugate meningitis A vaccine, immunization of more than 230 million people has led to the control and near elimination of deadly meningitis A disease in the African “meningitis belt” that stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia.
New vaccines against dengue, Ebola and malaria have the potential to be game-changers in immunization in the near future. For example, through a “ring-vaccination” strategy, the Ebola vaccine is being given to anyone who has come into contact with a person infected with Ebola, as well as contacts of theirs.
Vaccine innovations and the potential for rapid gains
In April 2016, countries across WHO’s six Regions will begin the phased withdrawal of oral polio vaccines by switching from the currently used oral vaccine to one that does not contain the strain of the virus which has already been eradicated. To provide complete protection against polio, many countries have already started the use of at least one dose of the injectable polio vaccine and others are planning to do so. These two critical steps in the Polio Endgame will accelerate polio eradication and help us to secure a polio-free world.
Reducing missed opportunities
To improve vaccination coverage, WHO is calling on countries to reach more children missed by routine delivery systems, especially those living in countries, districts or areas where less than 80% of them are receiving vaccines or those living in countries affected by conflicts or emergencies. Everyone should play a role in closing this gap – governments, health workers, parents, civil society and international organizations.
More than 60% of children who are unvaccinated live in 10 countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and South Africa.