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News Outlets Examine Challenges With Expanding Global Child Immunization Campaigns

Wednesday’s release of the WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank joint report on childhood vaccines highlighted gains in recent global vaccination campaigns and also found that nearly 24 million infants worldwide don’t get the recommended first-year vaccination. The following news outlets examined the challenges associated with the expansion of global immunization campaigns to reach this population:

“The Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS), co-sponsored by WHO and UNICEF, estimates that by vaccinating 90 percent of the world’s children against 14 illnesses for which there are vaccines (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, Hib disease, rubella, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, and, where applicable, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever), … two million child deaths could be prevented,” Scientific American reports.

“[S]aving lives does not come cheaply,” Scientific American writes, noting the increased per-child costs of immunizations,” from “a few dollars on average” in the 1980s to today’s cost of $18. “To meet the GIVS target, that figure would increase to $30, due to the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of newer formulas. Such per-child costs may not sound like much in today’s expensive U.S. health care market, but for many developing countries, that is more than 10 percent of annual per capita income,” the magazine writes. “Much of the tab is picked up by governments, although international aid organizations, such as UNICEF, are currently buying more than half of the vaccines that go to children.”

“The substantial costs” of vaccination campaigns “can be recouped in the long run by savings on subsequent reduced medical treatment for the illnesses. The cost of vaccinating against smallpox across the globe between 1967 and 1977 cost about $100 million. The eradication of the disease, however, has saved an estimated $1.3 billion a year since then, according to the report.”

The article includes information on other vaccine-related issues, including how the growth of the vaccine industry had previously led to more competition, driving vaccine prices down (Harmon, 10/21).

In related news, Inter Press Service examines how efforts that previously helped drive down costs of vaccines for developing countries have since “evaporated,” as documented in the joint report. “Manufacturers used to sell their drugs at a lower price to developing countries because they could get a higher price from industrialised countries but industrialised and developing countries no longer use the same vaccines; manufacturers no longer maintain excess production capacity; and competition among suppliers has decreased,” the news service writes.

Efforts to expand vaccination campaigns will face the challenge of an existing “10-billion-dollar gap … between the costs of immunisation in 72 of the world’s poorest countries – 35 billion dollars – and the estimated funding flow to support immunisation – 25 billion dollars,” IPS writes. “Efforts to expand immunisation will also meet challenges in bringing vaccines to 35 lower-middle incomes countries – containing a population of nearly two billion people – which are not eligible for GAVI funding but where immunisation costs could cost tens of billions of dollars” (Clifton, 10/21).