In an article for the World Economic Forum in July 2023 the importance of investment in childhood vaccines and vaccination programmes is emphasised. Authored by Eva Kadilli and Dr Seth Berkley, the piece explores pre- and post-pandemic levels of global immunisation. As we know from the State of the World’s Children report by UNICEF in 2023, current levels are a concern to health experts, with millions of children exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Technology leaves access behind
Although recent technological developments for both prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines have been remarkably effective and rapid, the authors comments on “hundreds of thousands of deaths” that continue to occur. These are caused by “what should now be universally preventable diseases”.
“Vaccine technology alone does not save lives; for that, they also must be manufactured, procured, safely delivered along the supply chain, and administered.”
Although we have made “incredible progress” against childhood diseases, there are persistent gaps in global immunisation coverage. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic placed further pressure on health systems, particularly in lower-income countries. Therefore, this progress has either been slightly reversed or stalled.
Pre- and post-pandemic
Although the pandemic caused significant disruption, global immunisation rates were “stagnating” before it started. However, the authors identify reasons to be hopeful in the events of our global vaccination response to COVID-19.
“The response clearly demonstrated that when strong political will and funding are there, it is possible to bridge gaps quickly and effectively.”
Some of the examples featured by Kadilli and Berkley include the scaling up of cold storage facilities in Ghana and a digital register integrating immunisation and civic data in Uzbekistan. Not only did these reactions to a global crisis lessen the possible effect, but they have strengthened health systems and demonstrated clear potential for growth.
“These investments have strengthened vaccine delivery systems in ways that extend well beyond COVID-19 and have the promise to continue as long-term, sustainable gains.”
Although COVID-19 facilitated rapid and resourceful development, we must “continue to build on this momentum”. For vulnerable children in particular, sustained investment is needed to “overcome the systemic barriers” that have “historically hindered access” to life-saving vaccines.
“These children are not just the last to be reached, they are often the hardest to reach.”
These barriers should invite concerted and collaborative efforts to establish strong health systems and supply chains, ensuring that governments are “better equipped to address” the “multiple depravations” that many children face.
Who is working on this?
UNICEF and Gavi comprise the world’s largest buyer of childhood vaccines, reaching “about half of the world’s children under five each year”. This collaboration has “spanned more than two decades”, contributing to the immunisation of over a billion children and saving around 16 million lives.
“With our joint expertise and purchasing power, we offer financing solutions for governments to build and strengthen national immunisation programmes. And we work with manufacturers to create healthy markets that offer vaccines at affordable and sustainable prices.”
As we continue to move on from the “acute phase” of the pandemic, Kadilli and Berkley believe that we can use lessons and knowledge to prepare for a “stronger and better” future. However, this will not be possible without sustained momentum and aspiration.
Investment must also consider the “human capital” behind these critical systems. For example, we must address health workers and logisticians, or risk communication and community engagement. Although technological innovation and industry acceleration is critical, it must be done with access in mind.
“Equity must be the mantra at every stage of a vaccine’s journey – from development to delivery.”
Thus, with “dedicated focus” and “investment along the entire supply chain”, we can prepare ourselves to meet ongoing and future disease challenges, “turn vaccines into vaccinations”, and reach those who are most in need.
Do you agree with the arguments raised by Kadilli and Berkley in their piece? If you are interested in discussions about how we can encourage mindful innovation, join us in Barcelona for the World Vaccine Congress. Finally, don’t forget to subscribe for more like this!