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Value of Vaccines 2020

The importance of vaccines for all

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Suriyapong Thongsawang

Dr Philippa Whitford

MP for Central Ayrshire, and the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccinations for All

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the topic of a vaccine is repeatedly raised, although it is unlikely one will be available for at least a year. However, World Immunisation Week (24-30 April) gives us the opportunity to reflect on the remarkable impact vaccination has already had on global society.

Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent deadly disease and contribute to improving the health of children across the world.

This year, the UK is hosting the Global Vaccine Summit and will continue as the lead donor to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has helped save three million lives.

The role of vaccines

Vaccines are playing an increasing role in preventing cancer and other conditions, as well as fighting infectious diseases, as antibiotic resistance becomes a greater challenge.

While microbes appear to be developing resistance to antibiotics more quickly, most vaccines do not lose their efficacy.

This World Immunisation Week join us as we build the political will and support required to deliver vaccines to all, no matter where they live.

The need for comprehensive vaccination of all children

Vaccination has led to a dramatic reduction in serious infectious diseases that were once commonplace.

Smallpox was completely eradicated in 1977 through a global vaccination programme, and we are within touching distance of eradicating polio which, before the vaccine was introduced in 1956, caused up to 7,000 cases of paralytic polio and 750 deaths in the UK each year. The UK has already renewed its commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

However, vaccine-derived cases will only be prevented by the intensive polio campaign becoming part of a more systematic approach: ensuring comprehensive vaccination of all children with the 11 key childhood vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The importance of remaining above the WHO vaccination safe level

While there is a strong drive to improve vaccination rates for children in developing countries, uptake in the UK is dropping, with many vaccines falling below the 95% WHO safe level, particularly in England.

The outbreak of measles across Europe in 2019, which led to over 80,000 cases and more than 70 deaths, is testament to the importance of immunisation.

Measles has come to be seen as a trivial condition in the UK, despite causing almost 150,000 deaths worldwide last year.

The spurious campaign against the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine has left many young adults in the UK and Europe unvaccinated and led to significant, and indeed fatal, outbreaks in recent years.

However, a recent report by the Royal Society of Public Health has shown that complacency, lack of access, lack of awareness, and logistical challenges are greater contributors to these falling rates than ‘anti-vaccine’ campaigns.

The reduction in life-threatening or disabling illnesses because of immunisation has led to complacency about the need for its ongoing use.

This World Immunisation Week join us as we build the political will and support required to deliver vaccines to all, no matter where they live.

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