The Contribution of Vaccines To Public Health And Global Development
Vaccines are a public health tool with extraordinary impact: most of the success they have had last century, particularly after WWII, in saving lives in western countries is due to the fact that they were used as public health tools by public health authorities, deploying vaccines provided both by private and state-owned companies.
Vaccination is universally considered the most successful and cost-effective medical intervention ever introduced (WHO 2013), saving yearly between 2.5 and 3 million lives and preventing countless illnesses. (WHO 2015) They have significantly contributed to the dramatic decline in mortality rates witnessed over the past decades. The 2015 MDGs Report states that measles vaccination alone helped prevent nearly 15.6 million deaths between 2000 and 2013, while the number of globally reported measles cases declined by 67 per cent for the same period. (UN 2015)
Vaccines are a crucial component in facing many challenges to reach the SDGs in the future. It was estimated that in 2013 6.3 million children worldwide died before reaching 5 years of age: this represents a decline from 9.9 million in 2000, despite an increase in births, demonstrating great progress in improving child survival. Nevertheless, MDG 4 (reduce child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015) will probably be achieved by only few countries. (Liu et al. 2015) Of the 6.3 million children who died in their first 5 years of life in 2013 (almost all in low-and middle-income countries – LMICs), 51.8% (3.26 million) died because of infectious diseases (IDs): pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria were the leading causes. (Liu et al. 2015)
A well-recognized shift is emerging from the analysis in the timing of child deaths: children are dying closer to the time of birth; deaths caused by infectious diseases (IDs), like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria are becoming more concentrated in the first 2 years of life. (Liu et al. 2015) In a recent systematic study Liu concluded that “although reductions in pneumonia, diarrhoea, and measles were responsible for half the decrease in deaths from 2000 to 2013, there is still a major uncompleted agenda for child infections, with a total burden of 3.3 million, just more than half of under-5 mortality.” (Liu et al. 2015)
Already today it is possible to greatly increase the impact vaccines can have on global health, by using the tools we have at hand, even before considering the contribution that new vaccines will offer.