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Vaccines don’t inject themselves

AIDS, pneumonia and sausages all have a special Day. One World and Save the Children have a Week. Black history and LGBT history now have a Month. The UN currently has a Year of Youth. But did you know that vaccines are going to have a whole decade?

The Decade of Vaccines was instigated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has set aside $10 billion for vaccines over the period until 2020.  However it has quickly been integrated into existing vaccine efforts including the Global Immunisation Vision and Strategy which WHO has led. Now, with WHO and UNICEF in the lead, the working groups of the Decade of Vaccines have begun. Save the Children is taking part in two. One is the Policy & Public Support working group which is trying to ensure that demand for and acceptability of immunisations grows as well as support from rich countries. The other working group, which I have been invited to join, is the Delivery Working Group and it had one of its first meetings last week.

The focus on delivery is essential.  Helping to discover and buy vaccines is no use if there are not systems to get them to children. We know that, although coverage levels of basic immunisation are pretty good, when you look at data broken down by wealth, some stark differences are visible. This graph shows immunisation rates for Nigeria, broken down by wealth. As you can see, the level of vaccination among the poorest children is appalling, below 10%. Unless we get basic health services – including vaccines – with adequate staff numbers to the poorest children, we will not be able to prevent unnecessary deaths.

We spent time looking at our draft report and I welcomed the contents – it is starting off in the right place: seeking to ensure that immunisation processes are embedded in primary care and that they seek to strengthen other aspects of the health system. There is a clear focus on equity and, very importantly, the report frames vaccination as a human right which all children are entitled to. There will now be a major period of consultation on the delivery working group with a view to the report going to the World Health Assembly in 2012.

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