A recent WHO news release reports that infant immunization rates continue to fall short of the global immunization target of 90%.
The percentage of children who receive full-course immunizations remains stagnant at 86%, as 12.9 million infants went unvaccinated in 2016, according to WHO and UNICEF. Since 2010, that percentage has remained stationary and continues to fall short of the global immunization coverage target of 90%. Data indicate that 64 of 194 countries fell short of meeting the 90% standard, which would require an additional 10 million children from these countries to be vaccinated. Over 70% of these children live in nations dominated by conflict and humanitarian issues.
"Most of the children that remain un-immunized are the same ones missed by health systems," says Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, in a press release. "These children most likely have also not received any of the other basic health services. If we are to raise the bar on global immunization coverage, health services must reach the unreached. Every contact with the health system must be seen as an opportunity to immunize."
Pakistan, for example, remains a polio-endemic country, despite mandatory polio vaccination since 1978. Although the last case of polio in the United States occurred in 1978, Pakistan reported 20 cases of the virus in 2016, according to WHO. Polio has also recently sprung up in war-torn Syria, with health officials vigorously working to launch a major vaccination campaign to quell the outbreak. The polio virus has been eliminated from most of the world and has the potential to be eradicated entirely, with increased vaccination rates.
Although the overall vaccination coverage percentage is 86%, immunization rates vary depending on the disease and location. For example, global vaccination percentages for rubella are less than 50%. The illness has not been reported in the United States since 2004, but is still common in many other nations. Rubella can lead to congenital rubella syndrome, which can result in hearing loss, heart defects, blindness, and other debilitating conditions.
Vaccinations for polio and rubella have existed for several decades; however, the diseases have not been completely eradicated. In addition, more recently recommended vaccines for illnesses such as the rotavirus, have a global coverage rate less than 50%. These data demonstrate that countries such as Pakistan are not the only nations that struggle with vaccination funding; many low- and middle-income countries experience vaccination limitations due to lack of external support and insufficient health budgets. A key conclusion from this information is that preventable diseases will continue to infect the world population and cause health crises if large-scale efforts to reduce inequity are not conducted.
"Immunization is one of the most pro-equity interventions around," says Dr Robin Nandy, chief of Immunizations at UNICEF, in the press release. "Bringing life-saving vaccines to the poorest communities, women and children must be considered a top priority in all contexts."
According to UNICEF, inequality rates have improved in the past decade, but a sizable portion of the world population is marginalized. The most crucial populations are living in poor, urban areas in Asia and Africa.
Although all unvaccinated individuals are susceptible to illness, unvaccinated adults 65 and older are more vulnerable to illnesses such as pneumonia and tetanus, due to aged, weakened immune systems. Weakened immune systems cannot fight off illness as easily, which can result in serious side effects and even death. Vaccinations in infants and children limit the likelihood of outbreaks and infections, and can reduce the overall number of preventable deaths. It is important to continue global initiatives to promote vaccinations and increase the number of children vaccinated, today, in order to decrease the number of vulnerable adults in the future.