Immunization prevents up to 5M deaths every year: WHO official

ANKARA – Immunization currently prevents between 3.5 million and 5 million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, and measles, said a World Health Organization (WHO) official.

On the occasion of World Immunization Week, Batyr Berdyklychev, WHO Türkiye representative, told Anadolu: “These days we have vaccines to prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, helping people of all ages live longer, healthier.”

The last week of April is celebrated as World Immunization Week, aiming to highlight the collective action needed to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases, said Berdyklychev.

He said vaccines not only give people healthier lives but also keep them away from falling into poverty.

“Health and well-being are closely linked. A sick person has less productivity, may lose income, and fall into catastrophic health expenditures. Therefore, it is estimated that vaccines will help keep approximately 24 million people from falling into poverty by 2030,” said Berdyklychev.

“We can say that immunization is one of the best health investments money can buy,” he added.

‘Vaccines can only improve health, prevent deaths if used’

Speaking on vaccine hesitancy, Berdyklychev said that it is one of the top 10 global health threats.

“Vaccines can only improve health and prevent deaths if they are used,” he said, adding: “This issue threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Berdyklychev said that according to WHO, complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are the key reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

“Health workers, especially those in communities, remain the most trusted advisors and influencers of vaccination decisions, and they must be supported to provide trusted, credible information on vaccines,” he added.

Berdyklychev said there is a “concerning decline in childhood vaccination rates across the world” and “un- and under-vaccinated people remain at risk of contracting preventable diseases like measles, diphtheria, and polio.”

“Our public health systems must therefore remain vigilant to track and trace any cases of VPD (vaccine-preventable diseases), and we must remind people that every vaccine and vaccine dose counts to save lives, protect ourselves, and protect those we love.”

On the future of vaccination, Berdyklychev said that scientists are not only working on new vaccines but also on new vaccine delivery technologies for improving vaccine delivery and efficacy.

“Technologies and alternative adjuvants that can remove the need for multiple shots are under development. Needle-free administration is already possible for some vaccines, such as live vaccines given orally (e.g. rotavirus) and for more, there are researches ongoing,” he added.

Vaccine equity

Berdyklychev said that although the COVID-19 pandemic showed us the fastest-developed vaccines, it also revealed “existing problems with vaccine equity.”

Immunization coverage differs among countries, with some populations having poor access to immunization services.

“Each year, 20 million infants do not receive a full course of even basic vaccines, and many more miss out on newer vaccines. Of these, over 13 million receive no vaccines through immunization programs – the zero-dose children,” said Berdyklychev.

Vaccination of high-priority groups, like healthcare workers, people over 60s, and people who are immunocompromised, must be prioritized when there is a vaccine shortage at a global or national level, said Berdyklychev.

“Adequate, predictable supplies of appropriate, affordable vaccines of assured quality must be available at points of service delivery, and stock-outs must be avoided,” he added.

Berdyklychev said that the WHO is working with partners and countries to address vaccine inequity such as COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership, focusing on 34 low-coverage countries, with the government at the center, to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination. (Anadolu)