Emily Loud, Gavi
Photo: Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Let’s start with the good news – there was a lot of it this year! 2015 began with a massive boost for global immunisation, as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance secured $7.5 billion for the future of making vaccines work in the world’s poorest countries.
World immunisation week in April followed with countries across the world celebrating growing global achievements, as well as raising awareness about protection gaps in some of the poorest countries.
Commemorations and reflections continued as the millennium development goals (MDGs) came to an end, and their successors, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), were agreed. Immunisation was recognised as having played a key role. It was no surprise, then, to see vaccines included in the new sustainable development goal three, which aims at ensuring access for all.
Other success stories were less high-profile, but still impressive. MenAfriVac – a vaccine against meningitis A made specifically for Africa – was one. Since its launch across the “meningitis belt” of Africa in 2010, it has reached 220 million people and brought about the near elimination of the strain against which it protects.
By the end of 2015, systematic progress towards vaccination to eradicate polio worldwide was also clear. Nigeria was officially removed from the list of polio endemic countries in September, significantly fewer cases had been reported than 2014, and both countries where polio remains most problematic – Pakistan and Afghanistan – had introduced inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to stop the virus in its tracks.
New vaccines and future planning
The aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue fever, as well as other diseases. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Creative commons
Vaccine innovation also saw prominent results in 2015, as shots for malaria and dengue were approved for some form of use, while the new cholera vaccine stockpile and protection against Japanese encephalitis reached more people than ever. The pipeline of future protection also looked promising, with vaccinations against RSV (a key cause of childhood pneumonia), MERS, Ebola, universal flu strains all edging closer to market in over the past 12 months.
Need for further progress
Sadly, not everything this year was quite so rosy. From polio in Ukraine to measles in DRC and the USA, outbreaks showed us that there is still a way to go before the lifesaving power of vaccines is fully utilised.
Tragic situations in Sudan and elsewhere demonstrated the limits of vaccination without supporting political and diplomatic action to help them reach the most vulnerable.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa called into question the process by which vaccines are made and highlighted the desperate need for strong health systems for any basic interventions to function, vaccination included.
New threats of infectious disease also loomed, demanding more attention for the world’s preparedness approaches and planning.
As the sustainable development goals were finalised, further issues about how they will be measured and supported also arose, which now linger.
Overall, 2015 was a hopeful year for immunisation and our growing power to protect populations from preventable disease. But there is much left to do if we are to make this optimism reality in 2016.