What are routine vaccines for children and why is it important?

Routine vaccines should be given to all children in order to ensure their health and well-being. They represent one of the most important advances in global public health. I cannot overstate their importance in saving lives. Their work helps to prevent approximately 3 million deaths each year, which is truly amazing. Diseases such as measles and diphtheria, as well as diseases like polio and tetanus, can spread quickly, affecting all ages, but particularly infants, who have developing immune systems. As long as routine vaccination rates for children remain high, we have the potential to eradicate some of these deadly diseases permanently. WE has a commitment to reaching as many children with vaccines as possible.

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We would love to hear about your most memorable vaccination successes in recent years.

There are many accomplishments countries can be proud. Last year, Pakistan received measles-rubella vaccinations. This is a recent example. In recent years, cases have increased dramatically and affected thousands of children. The vaccines were distributed for a two week campaign to immunize all children between nine months and fifteen years of age – a total of 90 million children. With 113 million doses of measles-rubella shipped to Pakistan, this was the largest measles-rubella procurement effort WE has ever seen. The campaign involved more than 386,000 health professionals.

“Our mission is reach every child with life-saving vaccinations.”

In the years ahead, many lives will be saved by other successes. The developments in the malaria vaccine are what I am referring to. The World Health Organization (WHO), after positive trials in Africa in 2021 recommended widespread use of the malaria vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. We are currently in the middle of a tender process to make arrangements for procuring the vaccine. The vaccine could save the lives of more than 400,000 people in 2019, especially children.

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What role does WE play in vaccine procurement and delivery for children?

WE is the largest buyer of vaccines worldwide. WE supports countries in meeting their national vaccination goals by procuring and delivering routine vaccines to children, as well as vaccines that can be used for emergency response. WE provides vaccines for 45 percent of children below five years old every year. We procured over 2.3 billion vaccines in 2021. This excludes COVID-19 vaccines. Nearly one quarter of them were dedicated to polio eradication campaigns. The remainder were used for immunization drives against disease such as yellow fever, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Our goal is to reach every child by providing life-saving vaccines.

Around 30% of Our annual shipments contain vaccines that have been carefully transported at the correct temperature to reach hospitals, clinics, and health centres around the globe. We do much more than just buy and deliver vaccines. WE is a leader in vaccine market shaping. We work with vaccine manufacturers to ensure that vaccines for children are affordable and readily available to all countries.

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“WE delivered over 52,000 vaccine refrigerators in 2021. This highlights the cold chain requirements many countries have.”

What are the greatest challenges that the world faces when it comes to vaccinating children in the world? What are the differences in how these challenges vary between high- and low-income countries?

A key challenge is to ensure adequate cold chain equipment and facilities. These fridges and freezers are required to keep vaccines at a certain temperature. Vaccines won’t work if these requirements aren’t met.

Recent developments have made great strides in improving the cold chain in low-income countries. WE and Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) have worked together for many years to increase cold chain capacity in countries so that vaccines reach all areas, from cities to remote locations. WE delivered 52,000 vaccine fridges in 2021. This highlights the cold chain challenges many countries face. We have also innovated by providing solar-powered fridges. This is critical to allow vaccinations to occur in areas without reliable electricity.

Another major problem is the distance between children and their families from health centers. It’s usually very simple to get vaccinated at your local doctor’s office in high-income countries. They are usually well-stocked with the right storage facilities. This is not always true in low-income countries. This can be made more difficult by a lack in transport options, poor infrastructure, and fewer clinics or health care centres. We also have to consider the effects of COVID-19 which had a ripple effect on routine immunization programs around the globe. 23 million children were not vaccinated in 2020. This was a significant reversal of progress made before the pandemic. To understand the impact of the pandemic, we are eager to see how 2021 numbers compare. There are many challenges, but WE will continue to find solutions to reach more children through improving the capacity of countries to store, accept and distribute childhood vaccines.

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What can we do to overcome these obstacles?

Different countries have different needs. We need to adapt our support so that what is important for one country may not be critical for another. We want to increase the demand in countries for childhood vaccines, and help them access them, regardless of whether they are purchasing directly through WE, or as part Gavi’s program support. We also have long-term goals to integrate routine vaccination with healthcare. This means that children must be immunized against disease as part of growing up in health care, at the community or central level. A stronger system of health will lead to better outcomes for health. WE focuses a lot on strengthening these systems and providing assistance to countries with technical and financial resources as well as critical supplies like vaccines, cold chains equipment and safety boxes.