18 April 2013 There is an urgent need to improve vaccination supplies and to better communicate the health benefits provided by vaccines, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today ahead of World Immunization Week, noting that up to 22 million children are not being immunized against preventable diseases.
“We have seen some major advances in the development and delivery of vaccines in the past few years,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO. “But many countries still face obstacles in getting life-saving vaccines to every child who needs them.”
These challenges range from not being able to keep vaccines at the correct temperature to incorrect recordkeeping to not allowing health workers access to children, according to a joint news release from WHO, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and their partners, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI Alliance.
The message comes ahead of World Immunization Week which starts on 20 April with its call to “protect your world, get vaccinated” in 180 countries, as part of an efforts to reach universal immunization coverage.
Vaccination averts an estimated 2-3 million deaths every year, according to UN figures, from preventable diseases such as diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, pneumonia, polio rotavirus, diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus.
In addition, UN agencies said there is a need to better communicate the health benefits provided by vaccines and the dangers of not immunizing children to parents and caregivers, countering myths that the shots do not work or cause negative side effects.
“In some parts of the world, complacency about immunization has led to gaps in vaccination coverage,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF. “When gaps occur, outbreaks follow.”
According to the Head of WHO Immunization division, Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, such a gap is the reason polio continues in parts of the world.
“Close to 80 per cent of infants worldwide have received the full course of basic vaccines, and this is very high in comparison to many other public health programmes. But we are short of reaching universal coverage. Twenty per cent short – and this explains why we are behind schedule in achieving, for example, the eradication of polio,” Dr. Okwo-Bele said.
In recent years, there have been resurgences of diphtheria, measles and rubella in developed and developing countries alike, WHO and UNICEF reported. For example, outbreaks of measles have occurred in France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Pakistan.
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