News / Health

Vaccinations Save Millions of Lives Every Year

FILE - A woman gets a vaccination from a nurse in Mexico City, Jan. 27, 2014.
FILE - A woman gets a vaccination from a nurse in Mexico City, Jan. 27, 2014.
Lisa Schlein
The World Health Organization says effective vaccines against killer diseases are averting between two to three million deaths every year.The agency is kicking off its yearly World Immunization Week campaign by urging children and adults to get immunized against deadly and debilitating diseases.

When the WHO began its Expanded Program on Immunization in 1974, only five percent of the world’s children were being immunized against killer diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and pertussis.  Forty years later, more than 80 percent are receiving life-saving vaccinations.  

In addition, WHO noted an increasing number of people in all age groups are being immunized against preventable diseases.  WHO Director of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele said the impact of vaccines is comparable to that of providing safe water to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

“But importantly, we can do much better.  We can save an additional 1.2 million deaths every year if some of the newest vaccines, for instance against meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhea are used in the countries where these inevitable deaths still occur.   We could also prevent 250,000 deaths due to cervical cancer in the near future if the vaccines against human papillomavirus is extended to all girls today," explained Okwo-Bele.

Dr. Okwo-Bele said polio is on the verge of eradication.  He said measles in Africa has gone down dramatically and the disease is being eliminated in the Americas and in the Pacific region, including China.  He said the meningitis vaccine has been an outstanding success in saving lives in Africa.

According to the doctor, Angola and Congo Brazzaville are launching the introduction of roto-virus vaccines into their national health systems to coincide with World Immunization Week.

While these and other successes are gratifying, the World Health Organization said work must continue to reach the world’s children who are not being immunized with basic vaccines.  WHO Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals Technical Officer  Tracey Goodman told VOA there is a danger of people becoming complacent.  

“The unfortunate thing about complacency is that the number of susceptibles who resist or reject vaccination will accumulate and the disease will come back as you are seeing in the United States, measles and pertussis-whooping cough, which is a terrible disease,” she said. 

Goodman said vaccine-preventable diseases come back if a sufficient number of people in a community are not immunized.  She called this an avoidable tragedy.

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