Over 150 Million Lives Saved through Consistent Global Immunization Efforts: Lancet Study


A groundbreaking study set to be published by The Lancet unveils that global immunization efforts have preserved an estimated 154 million lives over the past half-century – equivalent to saving six lives every minute, year-round. The bulk of these lives, totalling 101 million, were those of infants.

Led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the study underscores immunization as the foremost contributor among health interventions, ensuring not only the survival of infants past their first year but also their sustained well-being into adulthood.

Among the vaccines analyzed in the study, measles vaccination emerged as the most impactful in reducing infant mortality, responsible for saving 60% of lives through immunization. This vaccine is poised to remain a primary force in preventing deaths in the foreseeable future.

In the last five decades, vaccination against 14 diseases (including diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever) has played a direct role in decreasing infant mortality by 40% worldwide, and by over 50% in the African Region.

“Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Thanks to vaccines, 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 back the frontiers of disease. With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”

The research revealed that for every life preserved through immunization, an average of 66 years of healthy living were attained, resulting in a total of 10.2 billion years of full health over the past five decades. Thanks to polio vaccination, over 20 million individuals are now able to walk who would otherwise have faced paralysis, bringing the world to the brink of eradicating polio once and for all.

These advancements in childhood survival underscore the critical importance of safeguarding immunization progress globally and intensifying endeavors to reach the 67 million children who missed out on one or more vaccines during the pandemic years.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) slated for May 2024, this study represents the most extensive examination to date of the program’s global and regional health impacts spanning the past five decades.

Established in 1974 by the World Health Assembly, the EPI originally aimed to vaccinate all children against diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, and smallpox, the sole human disease ever eradicated. Presently known as the Essential Programme on Immunization, the initiative has evolved to encompass universal recommendations for vaccination against 13 diseases, along with context-specific recommendations for an additional 17 diseases, thereby expanding immunization coverage beyond children to include adolescents and adults.

The research underscores that at the inception of the EPI, fewer than 5% of infants worldwide had access to routine immunization. Presently, 84% of infants receive protection through three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine – serving as the global benchmark for immunization coverage.

Of the estimated 154 million lives saved since 1974, nearly 94 million were attributed to the protection offered by measles vaccines. However, in 2022, approximately 33 million children missed out on a measles vaccine dose, with nearly 22 million failing to receive their initial dose and an additional 11 million missing their second dose.

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