Fulfilling the Potential of Vaccines to Protect Health and Save Lives around the World
Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Vaccines are at the very top of public health’s greatest success stories, averting millions of deaths annually . But precisely because of immunization's enormous impact, we must do more to increase the use of existing vaccines and accelerate the discovery and development of new ones. No parent should have to experience their child dying from a vaccine preventable disease, yet every year 1.5 million children who have not been adequately immunized die before reaching their fifth birthday. And in today's world, vaccines are no longer just to save the lives of children. With continued discovery of new vaccines against viruses proven to cause cancer, such as the HPV and hepatitis B , we have the capability to prevent nearly 874,000 adult deaths each year.
Preventing infectious diseases, both within the United States and around the world, is a key objective of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Global Health Strategy. As our National Vaccine Plan acknowledges, access to safe and effective vaccines is one of the most powerful tools we have to stop the spread of disease. Developing and disseminating vaccines cannot be done by one agency or country alone. As the MenAfriVac® story demonstrates, successes come from collaboration with other U.S. departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and the governments of other countries. Through multilateral capacity building efforts, low and middle income countries are now beginning to build seasonal influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity to support pandemic preparedness by producing vaccines for their own countries and regions with less reliance on United States and other developed countries. This expanded and diversified capacity makes all of us safer and more secure.
Ensuring access also requires putting an end to disproven and unfounded claims about the safety and purpose of vaccinations. Although scientifically debunked, the oft-echoed belief that certain childhood vaccinations lead to autism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of children around the world being denied lifesaving immunizations, even in wealthy communities. We have also seen unfounded rumors derail global immunization efforts and lead to unnecessary illness and death. In Nigeria, a mass boycott followed false stories that the polio vaccine was a Western ploy to spread HIV and sterilize Muslim girls. This immunization boycott led to a rash of new polio infections in the country, and to the further spread of the polio virus to a dozen other countries as far away as Indonesia.
The medical truth is proven and straightforward: vaccines are safe, effective, and save hundreds of thousands of lives every day. Yet, while we celebrate the successes of vaccines, we must also acknowledge the work left to be done. The world still suffers from many potentially preventable diseases for which no effective vaccine yet exists, including HIV, TB, malaria, and hepatitis C. Continued research is crucial to developing new vaccines for these and other diseases that kill and maim. In the meantime we need to work towards universal access for existing vaccines so that every person in the world receives the full benefit of the greatest contribution that science has made to public health.