Vaccines have saved at least 154 million lives in fifty years: WHO

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Global immunization efforts have saved at least 154 million lives over the past 50 years, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, adding that most of those who benefited were infants.

That’s the equivalent of six lives saved every minute of every year of the half-century, according to the UN health agency.

In a study published in The LancetThe WHO has provided a comprehensive analysis of the impact of 14 vaccines used under the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which celebrates its 50th anniversary next month.

Thanks to these vaccines, “a child born today is 40 percent more likely to live to his fifth birthday than a child born 50 years ago,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

“Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” he said.

“Smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing the boundaries of the disease.”

Babies were responsible for 101 million of the lives saved by immunization over the past five decades, the study said.

“Immunization was the single greatest contribution of any health care intervention to ensuring that babies not only see their first birthday but also continue to live healthy lives into adulthood,” the WHO said.

‘Vaccines cause adults’

In fifty years, vaccines against fourteen diseases – diphtheria, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, whooping cough, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis and yellow fever – had directly contributed Research shows that child mortality can be reduced by 40 percent.

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For Africa, the decline in infant mortality was more than 50 percent, the report said.

The vaccine against measles – a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that mainly affects children – had the greatest impact.

According to the study, that shot was responsible for 60 percent of the lives saved by immunization.

The polio vaccine ensures that more than 20 million people who would otherwise have been paralyzed can walk today.

The study also showed that if a vaccine saves a child’s life, that person will live an average of 66 years in full health – for a total of 10.2 billion full health years gained over the past fifty years.

“Vaccines cause adults,” Tedros said.

WHO emphasized that the gains in child survival demonstrate the importance of protecting progress in immunization.

It highlighted accelerated efforts to reach 67 million children who have missed at least one vaccination during the COVID pandemic.

The UN health agency, together with the UN children’s agency Unicef, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a joint campaign called ‘Humanly Possible’ on Wednesday.

It aims to scale up vaccination programs around the world.

“Working together, we can save millions more lives, advance equality and create a much healthier and more prosperous world,” Violaine Michell of the Gates Foundation told reporters.

Anti-vax threat

But efforts to ensure broader coverage of vaccines are increasingly being met with anti-vax movements and conspiracy theories circulating on social media.

This has been especially evident during the COVID pandemic, but has also taken a toll on efforts to prevent measles outbreaks.

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“There has been a very significant decline in the use of the measles vaccine and the reporting that has been achieved in countries around the world, and that has led to outbreaks,” WHO vaccine chief Kate O’Brien told reporters.

In 2022, the last year for which clear statistics exist, more than nine million cases of measles were recorded worldwide, including 136,000 children who died.

The lack of access to the vaccines was a major problem, O’Brien said, but some of the decline was due to “misinformation and anti-vax movements.”

“The measles vaccine is a safe vaccine and very effective,” she said, emphasizing the need to step up efforts against “one of the most contagious viruses that infect humans.”

© 2024 AFP

Quote: Vaccines have saved at least 154 million lives in 50 years: WHO (2024, April 24) retrieved April 28, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-04-vaccines-million-years.html

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