Vaccination is a Smart, Long-Term Investment

The global immunization system is one of the most cost effective health interventions and has proven to be the best buy in global health. Despite extraordinary progress over past decades routine immunization programs for children and adults still face massive challenges, causing far too many children to be left behind.

For over 200 years, vaccines have played a fundamental role in the reduction of death and illness due to infectious diseases.  Immunization has proven to be the most effective and well-known system of disease prevention. Timely and complete immunization prevents the catastrophic illness in children under five, mothers and adults. Hundreds of millions of lives have been saved with vaccinations.

Direct and indirect impacts of immunization have the potential of changing lives. GAVI reports show that immunization plays a crucial role in achieving 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is described as one of the most far-reaching global health interventions and has immense contribution to SDG ethos of “leaving no one behind”.

Unvaccinated or incompletely immunized children

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting vaccinated. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized children face a double jeopardy. It’s one thing that they are not immunized in timely manner, secondly living in poorest countries makes them more vulnerable to risk of death due to lack of access to timely treatment and care.

Vaccines may be available but vaccination is not!

Vaccination falls short due to myriads of reasons, which can be divided into two big categories: 

  1. Hard-to-reach populations: Internal displacement due to fragile contexts, tough geographical terrain, nomadic movements, and armed conflict are some of the reasons that local immunization programs fail to reach vulnerable communities. Insufficient financing, dysfunctional infrastructure and a lack of commitment from wealthy countries further exacerbate these existing reasons. These endemic areas become the breeding grounds for sickness and lead to spread to other areas. Studies have shown that a clear description and the actual magnitude of hard-to-reach populations has not been established, making it difficult to design and implement effective immunization programs. Even more children are being left behind because routine programs have been delayed or halted due to COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Hard-to-vaccinate: There are groups of people and communities who are reachable but difficult to vaccinate. High levels of distrust, religious beliefs, low awareness about immunization programs, and gender-based discrimination have been described as reasons for hard-to-vaccinate groups.

Earning public trust has become harder due to the fast spread of misinformation and anti-vaccine movements seen in both developing and industrialized countries. Loss of public confidence in a vaccine due to real or spurious links to adverse reactions has hugely impacted immunization activities. Measles is making a comeback in several countries and COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has circulated rapidly, adding to the felt threats. 

It is time to take action

As global health practitioners, we need to think beyond our training and qualifications and focus on two inborn traits:    

  1. Intuition: Steve Jobs said intuition was not a mere gut call it was about “connecting the dots.” We need young professionals and leaders to use their intuition and connect the dots; finding easy links between global health research and knowledge translation can restore trust and confidence in timely vaccination.       
  2. Innovation: We cannot dwell in normality. It is time to seek novelty. Novel approaches are needed to gain political will and increased funding to address the factors affecting hard-to-reach populations. Especially in countries where progress has stalled or reversed.  We need innovative technology to identify children who have never been vaccinated and most importantly a functional system to trace the dropouts so that vaccination regimes can be completed and lives can be saved. 

Did you know that it is World Immunization Week? Promise yourself to harness your intuition and innovation to improve immunization programs around the world.

Remember “vaccination is what saves you, not the vaccine.”


April 27, 2021


Zari Gill