a shot of inspiration: celebrating game-changing vaccines during World Immunization Week 

By: Results Canada Published: 25/04/2024

by Chris Dendys, Executive Director

It was a game-changing moment in your life – but you probably don’t remember it.

It was the moment you received your first vaccine, protecting you – and those around you – from painful, life-threatening infectious diseases. That first shot in your arm, and the series of shots that followed, may have saved your life. And you’re not alone.

Over the past 50 years, vaccines have saved close to 154 million lives around the world. That’s six lives saved every minute. And of those, 100 million were infants who, without vaccines, would never have lived to see their 5th birthday.

That’s 100 million children who may have gone on to become parents themselves, or scientists, doctors, teachers, artists, or simply vibrant members of their communities and our world. Without access to lifesaving or life-supporting vaccines, their potential and power would have been untapped.

That’s worth reflecting on as we celebrate World Immunization Week – a week that’s even more celebration-worthy this year because it also marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the World Health Organization’s Essential Program on Immunizations (EPI). EPI, launched in 1974, set a bold goal to protect children around the world, no matter where they lived or how poor their context or community, from 6 preventable childhood illnesses, including tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and measles. And it succeeded.

That initial push to roll out these essential vaccines, coupled with myriad other cost-effective life-saving initiatives targeting mothers and children, including critical interventions to treat malnutrition or diarrhea, helped usher in a revolution in child survival that is still generating results.

Earlier this year, UNICEF reported that the fight against child mortality had reached an historic milestone as child mortality hit a record low of 4.9 million annually. It’s still far too many – but it means the number of child deaths globally has been cut in half over the past 20 years. In what too often feels like a sea of doom and gloom stories, this milestone is a beacon of hope.

Over the decades, EPI has been expanded to include 13 universally recommended vaccines delivered across the life course. On the heels of what EPI showed was possible, countries and global champions, including donors and global health institutions like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are now rolling out new lifesaving vaccines. Earlier this year, Cameroon became the first country to scale up a new malaria vaccine, other countries are scaling up the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and a new TB vaccine is on the horizon.

Rolling out EPI 50 years ago was a giant leap of faith and a testament to what can be achieved when we weave together the necessary political will, technological innovation, financial investments, and human perseverance and hard work necessary to literally reach every household across the globe with these seemingly simple yet profoundly miraculous life-saving interventions.

It's inspirational. And you’ve been a part of that big and powerful march to progress.

If you were vaccinated on that game-changing day you don’t remember as a child, or if you’ve vaccinated your own children, then you’ve added to the web of protection for yourselves and others. As an advocate, either in bold ways by taking concrete action or just being vocal about the power of vaccines, you’ve pushed political will in the direction of progress.

Also, as a Canadian, you’ve contributed to big impact in the world because Canada has been a leader on global vaccine initiatives for decades. Through our international aid investments, we’ve helped eradicate smallpox, we’ve brought the world very close to eradicating polio. We have been meaningful actors in the child survival revolution because of our investments in basic immunizations, like measles vaccines, and now more cutting-edge vaccines, like malaria. We’ve done this through our support for myriad initiatives and institutions. And as we look ahead to multilateral replenishment opportunities, including an upcoming funding drive for Gavi and other initiatives, we need to continue to lead and to invest.

The motto of this World Immunization Week is ‘Humanly Possible’. It’s a fitting descriptor of the gains that can be achieved when we commit to game-changing bold ambition and then commit to action and impact.

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