Op-ed: Let’s celebrate immunization week without easing up the effort

By Awa Marie Coll-Seck, minister of Health and Social Action of Senegal, and Guillaume Grosso, director of ONE France. This piece, translated from French, was originally published on Huffington Post France.

For World Immunization Week, all global health and development actors decided to take part in the mobilization initiated by the World Health Organization to give a boost to vaccines coverage through the world.

Celebrated across five continents, this year’s mobilization, with the slogan “Protect the world — get vaccinated,” is an opportunity to remind us that vaccination can prevent each year between 2 and 3 million deaths.

If it is a question of looking at the glass at half full, we can only be delighted by the progresses recently registered worldwide. The report is simple: the rate of vaccine coverage is increasing and touching more and more children every year. In just 2010, an estimated 109 million children less than 1 year old have been administered three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine.

New vaccines are available in developing countries, which were — until now — non-existent or under-used, allowing to fight the first two causes of infant mortality in the world: pneumococcus and rotavirus, which are the origin of the main causes of pneumonia and acute diarrhea.

This success would not have been possible without GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which mobilized the necessary funds to accelerate the access to new and under-used vaccines in developing countries. For example, Senegal was recently approved for the introduction of the vaccine against the pneumococcus, joining the 46 countries supported by GAVI that were approved for the same vaccine since 2010. The impact of the international community’s effort towards immunization is henceforth tangible.

The pessimists, and maybe the realists, will also see the glass half empty. We still estimate today at 1.7 million the number of children who died from a disease that should be avoidable through vaccination, before having reached their fifth birthday — a daily scandal that takes place in the biggest silence.

Finally, and this is a paradox, looking at all the successes registered, some parents and health care professionals think that vaccination is not necessary anymore, and is no longer a sanitary urgency. Thus some countries see their vaccinal cover decrease and the resurgence of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and poliomyelitis.

This dynamic has quite an echo in France where the rates for vaccine coverage for vaccines such as measles remain insufficient. This lack of vaccination should be addressed shortly.

This is the direction that we, NGOs, governments and actors in health and development wish to look for this immunization week: celebrating the successes without easing up the effort.