‘The Big Catch-Up’ and the Importance of Immunisation Week

In 1796 Edward Jenner, an English physician, discovered the first vaccine for smallpox. Since then, humanity has persevered through many life-threatening diseases by making vaccines that enhance our immune systems.

Getting vaccinated is crucial for people whose immune systems are at a vulnerable stage; infants, children, pregnant women, and elderly individuals all come under the list. Vaccinating these populations can help protect their health and well-being, as they are often at higher risk of severe complications or death from vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs)

Bing vaccinated assures community immunity, or ‘herd immunity.’ When a high number of people are vaccinated against a disease, it reduces the transmission of disease and protects those who are unable to get vaccinated.

The WHO estimates that 25 million children missed out on vaccination in 2021 alone, a staggeringly high number like this calls to attention a catch-up.

Every Vaccine Counts

As a means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases beyond borders, Immunization Week plays a vital role in strengthening global health security.

Infectious diseases do not respect geographical boundaries, and immunization efforts have the ability to help prevent the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, including vaccine-preventable diseases, that can have significant negative health, social, and economic impacts on individuals, communities, and nations.

To ensure that more people, particularly children, are protected from preventable diseases as soon as possible, WHO is collaborating with partners to accelerate rapid progress in countries as part of ‘The Big Catch-Up.’

Children with poor living conditions are among the highest numbers who are susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. So helping these children get vaccinated is among WHO’s top priorities.

With the combined efforts of each country’s government and WHO, we can help make diseases like polio a thing of the past.

Making the World a Better Place

The importance of vaccine equity is one of the critical messages of World Immunization Week 2023. It is a global public good that everyone should have access to safe and effective vaccines, regardless of location, age, gender, or socioeconomic status.

While many low- and middle-income countries struggle to access vaccines, vaccine equity remains challenging.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused when someone consumes food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. Untreated, cholera can kill within hours. People living in places with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water are most at risk.

With funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization has helped Malawi access 4.9 million doses of oral cholera vaccines since the outbreak began in March 2022. The International Coordinating Group manages emergency supplies of vaccines. To date, vaccines have been deployed in 21 out of Malawi’s 29 districts.

Nine of the most affected districts in the country’s southern region received 1.95 million doses during a campaign between May and June 2022. In October, another batch of 2.9 million doses was delivered, and WHO and UNICEF supported a vaccination campaign in 14 more districts. As of December 2022, there were only 43 news cases in Nkhata Bay District, down from 381 in October 2022.

As a part of the ‘Big Catch Up,’ spreading awareness regarding the prevention of diseases is a crucial responsibility on our shoulders.

The World Health Organization worked with the government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to improve vaccination coverage in the province hosting the annual National Games, reaching out to villages that had a poor appreciation for previous vaccination campaigns.

As part of the campaign, nearly 39 000 people were vaccinated against COVID-19, and routine catch-up vaccinations were administered to babies, elderly people, and ethnic communities at risk.

This World Immunisation Week, let’s take the opportunity to learn more about the power of immunization and the importance of making sure everyone is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.