World Immunisation Week 2019
Immunisation saves millions of lives around the world every year, widely recognised as one of the most effective and worthwhile health interventions available worldwide. Despite this, there remain some 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children around the world today.
World Immunisation Week is celebrated every year to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages and backgrounds against disease. It is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and this year it falls on 24-30 April.
The 2019 theme is Protected Together: Vaccines Work! The various aims of this week include: raising awareness of how immunisation saves lives; increasing vaccination coverage to prevent disease outbreaks;
reaching marginalised and underserved communities; and reinforcing the medium- and long-term benefits of immunisation.
WHO has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten threats to global health in 2019. The Western Pacific region and the Pacific islands countries are no exception to this. Progress on vaccines has been mixed throughout the area: hesitancy has led to a real return of the measles, a completely preventable disease, while in certain countries the cervical cancer vaccination campaigns have shown great signs of success.
Two steps forward, one step back
Immunisation has led to immense progress on health in the Western Pacific: maternal and neonatal tetanus have been eliminated in 36 out of 37 countries; wild polio has been eradicated in all countries in the region; Rubella has been completely eliminated in 5 countries and Measles in 5; and nineteen countries have been confirmed to have new generations free from Hepatitis B. Mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases has decreased by 80% since the year 2000.
This being said, while these gains are significant, WHO is stressing that progress is fragile. Some communities and people have been unable to access vaccinations, so these preventable diseases can still come back.
Once such case is the resurgence of Measles in the region, with small-scale outbreaks occurring in various countries in 2018. This comes after a record low number of instances of the disease in 2017. This is even more alarming considering that Measles is returning in countries that had previously attained elimination. Resurgences such as these are largely attributable to vaccine hesitancy, defined as“the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
Cases like this is why this year’s World Immunisation Week is focusing on #VaccinesWork. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease, preventing roughly 2-3 million deaths worldwide per year. A further 1.5 million could be avoided if worldwide coverage of vaccinations were to improve.