Vaccination, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Vaccines and Gavi to the Rescue for Millions of Children

~Written by Theresa Majeski (Contact: theresa.majeski@gmail.com)

As talk continues to increase about an Ebola vaccine possibly becoming a reality in a couple months, I thought I’d offer a larger look at vaccines in general and how Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is helping ensure children in the poorest parts of the world can take advantage of lifesaving immunizations.

Many people have probably heard of Edward Jenner and his smallpox variolation which served to immunize people against smallpox. But this sort of variolation, taking fresh matter from a sore of someone suffering from an infectious disease and inserting that under the skin of a healthy person to cause an immune response resulting in the variolated person being immune to the disease, had been taking place in Africa, India and China long before Edward Jenner was even born.

The work done by Jenner and his predecessors were humanity’s first attempts at controlling an infectious disease through vaccination.

In the current era we have vaccinations for many of the infectious diseases that previously plagued many of the world’s richer nations, and still plague many of the poorer nations. Some may argue that we have too many vaccinations here in the West and that we are causing more harm than good through our childhood vaccinations. I’m not here to argue that particular topic with readers but if you’re interested in reading some science-based information about vaccines you can find that here, here, and here.

What I want to focus on is how vaccines have taken us from a world where millions upon millions of children died every year from infectious diseases and how the only hope for stopping an outbreak was quarantine, to a world where many of these infectious diseases are rarely seen in richer countries and are on the difficult path to being controlled in many lower income countries around the world. Now this is not to say that outbreaks of these vaccine preventable diseases such as polio, measles, and whooping cough, to name a few, are not occurring in the US, Europe, or Asia. They are, as evidenced by this interactive map from the Council on Foreign Relations.  We still have work to do that is for sure. But organizations like Gavi are focusing on eradicating these infectious diseases in middle and low income countries around the world, where these diseases exact a high toll.

So to put the effect of vaccines into perspective:

  • 3 million lives are saved worldwide every year due to vaccines
  • 1 child dies every 20 seconds from vaccine preventable diseases worldwide
  • The United States has seen a 99-100% decrease in cases of diphtheria, measles, H. influenza, mumps, rubella, congenital rubella, polio and smallpox due to vaccinations
  • Vaccines save the US $42 billion a year in medical costs and lost productivity

The incidence of many of these vaccine preventable diseases is still high in many of the poorer countries of the world; enter Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi helps save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunizations in poor countries. Gavi is a public-private partnership with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. Gavi works with health ministries in 77 countries to use existing frameworks to deliver vaccines to those in need. Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunization of 440 million children with another 243 million immunized between 2011 and 2015. These efforts amount to averting an estimated 3.9 million deaths from 2011 to 2015 due to vaccine preventable diseases.

Vaccines save lives; it’s as simple as that. Those vaccines we take for granted here in the US are the difference between life and death for many children in lower income countries. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is working to make those vaccines accessible to those who need them most.