Immunization Week: Looking backward to look forward

With our recently launched vaccines petition to save 4 million children’s lives in 5 years, there’s certainly been a great deal of immunization talk around the ONE office. Well, here’s some more. Get excited, people, because it’s officially Immunization Week around the world right now!

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Okay, so that may not be the most thrilling sentence ever uttered. But here’s why it should be. Last year was a great year for immunization. With 2010 came a series of natural disasters, resulting in what seemed to be a road of difficult public health challenges ahead.

But luckily, this was also the year that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $10 billion over the next decade to vaccines -– to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the poorest countries and a long-term goal to provide affordable vaccines to eliminate one of Africa’s biggest health problems.

The year began with a devastating earthquake in Haiti. The World Health Organization (WHO), the directing and coordinating authority for health within the UN system, lead the health response, working with local authorities, UN agencies and humanitarian partners to quickly respond to the emergency. WHO and health partners were there to provide an immediate vaccination response in efforts to protect those most susceptible to risk by establishing a surveillance system to detect outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, meningitis and polio.

More children are being immunized than ever before, as proven in 2010. Polio has been eradicated 98 percent, and more children have access to vaccines that protect them against deadly diseases such as severe pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea. Nicaragua, the first country to receive funding from the GAVI Alliance for pneumococcal vaccine, introduced the vaccine into its national immunization program. Burkina Faso became the first country to introduce the new meningitis vaccine nationwide. And a first generation malaria vaccine is now on the horizon, thanks to WHO’s Joint Technical Expert Group on Malaria Vaccines.

While we’ve come a long way and are making great progress in terms of immunization, we must not forget the work that still needs to be done. About 23 million infants around the world are still not being reached by routine immunization services. Measles has made a comeback as of late, particularly in Africa, where children are facing large outbreaks of the disease.

Immunization has and will continue to play a large part in helping to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals. With less than four years until the approach of the 2015 deadline, there must be great emphasis placed on countries to further reduce child mortality. This can be done by continuing the positive gains already made through existing vaccines and introducing new vaccines in conjunction with micronutrient supplements and rehydration therapy.

It’s important to recognize the strides that have been made as we continue our progress with global immunization.

So learn the facts, sign our petition and get excited for immunization week. It’s definitely something worth celebrating.