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Building a world where every child has a chance to survive and thrive

World Immunization Week 2024 – April 24 to 30
In just five decades, we have gone from a world where the death of a child was something many parents feared, to a world where every child – if vaccinated – has a chance to survive and thrive. Photo submitted

This year’s observance of World Immunization Week, April 24-30 signals a continued effort to prevent an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths worldwide from vaccine-preventable diseases.

This year, World Immunization Week will celebrate 50 years of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) – recognizing our collective efforts to save and improve countless lives from vaccine-preventable diseases and calling on countries to ramp up investments in immunization programs to protect the next generations. In just five decades, we have gone from a world where the death of a child was something many parents feared, to a world where every child – if vaccinated – has a chance to survive and thrive.

In the 1980s, UNICEF and partners embarked on a bold mission – to immunize every child against preventable diseases. Governments and partners facilitated one of the greatest logistical mobilizations in peacetime history. By the early 1990s, global childhood immunization levels reached 80 per cent. The creation of Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), added another dimension to EPI’s success by providing international support to countries to enable the broader introduction of a range of new vaccines.

Over the 50 years, we have witnessed the development and introduction of new vaccines targeting a wide range of diseases. There are now 13 vaccines (antigens) recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the EPI programme. They are: Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), Hepatitis B (Hep B), polio, measles, rubella, pneumococcal (PNC), rotavirus (Rota), human papillomavirus (HPV), and COVID-19 (for adults). There are also vaccines recommended for particular settings, including Yellow fever, Meningitis, Japanese encephalitis (JE), and Cholera. This comprehensive array of vaccines underscores the EPI’s commitment to safeguarding individuals from infancy through adulthood, embodying a holistic approach to health and well-being.

With respect to polio, it is exciting to realize that the world now stands on the threshold of eradicating a human pathogen globally for only the second time in history, after the eradication of smallpox in 1980. Thanks to a unique public-private partnership between WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, polio has been reduced by more than 99 per cent. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) provides a clear example of the successes that can be gained from the power of vaccines.

In 1988, there were 125 polio endemic countries with annual 350,000 cases worldwide. Now there are only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the wild polio virus is endemic.

Because of the efforts of Rotary and its partners, over 19 million people, who would otherwise have been paralyzed, are walking, and more than 1.5 million are alive who would otherwise have died. For decades, Campbell River Rotarians have raised funds that go towards the goal of worldwide polio eradication. Rotary’s two well-known annual fundraising events in our community are the Pumpkins for Polio and the Perogies for Polio fundraisers.

Immunization is one of the most efficient and cost-effective healthcare interventions, bringing the most marginalized communities into contact with primary health care. However, challenges to effective vaccination programs still exist due to various factors such as political insecurity, vaccine refusal, and misinformation. As one of the greatest advances of modern medicine, vaccines are safe, effective and save millions of lives every year.

World Immunization Week is an opportunity to celebrate 50 years of the Expanded Program on Immunization; to focus on the work that is needed to close immunization gaps; to ensure more people, particularly children, are protected from preventable diseases; and to recognize the robust polio eradication infrastructure built by Rotary and partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Submitted by Pieter Koeleman & Gary McLelan

Vice-Chairs End Polio Now Committee

Rotary Club of Campbell River