4-year-old Yash and his mother Shweta are happy that he is up to date with his vaccinations. World Vision staff have been educating families in this community about the importance of immunisation, so that women like Shweta can pass the message on to others. Photo by Annila Harris, World Vision
Forgive the terrible play on words but vaccines are, after all, designed to do exactly that. My little boy, Oscar, is almost four. He’s got just one more vaccination to go before he completes his childhood immunisation schedule. I can’t pretend that I love taking him to be immunised, holding him tightly on my lap while a nurse jabs his chubby little legs.
But I am so relieved that he’s protected from almost a dozen illnesses, including a disease that killed a friend of mine, and illnesses I had to suffer through when I was a kid, like chicken pox. And I’m also immensely aware of how grateful I should be for what for our family is a slight inconvenience, and what for so many families across the globe is an unattainable privilege.
First, some facts:
• Immunisation prevents more than two million deaths each year.
• Immunisation is widely acknowledged to be one of the most effective (and cost-effective) public health interventions of all time.
• In our lifetime, immunisation programs have resulted in eradication of smallpox, near-eradication of polio and a 78% fall in measles deaths between 2000 and 2012. If, like me, you are too young to remember smallpox, the photos of that time should be enough to convince you that eradication was a glorious moment for the world.
• One child dies every 20 seconds from a disease preventable by immunisation.
• In 2013, 22 million children missed out on immunisations that could save their lives.
For all these reasons and more, immunisation is a key part of World Vision’s approach to ensuring the health and wellbeing of children in the communities we serve.
Immunisation means making a person immune or resistant to a disease. Vaccines are a common method of immunisation. Vaccines stimulate a person’s immune system to protect them from future infections.
The topic of immunisation also seems to provoke a response, so before we go on, it is worth noting that research evidence convincingly demonstrates:
• that in both developing and developed countries immunisation is vital to prevent deaths (as recent measles outbreaks in Australia and beyond show);
• that vaccines do not cause autism (see, for example, this analysis including 1,256,407 children)
• that the risks of vaccinations are far outweighed by the benefits
• that by increasing immunisation rates we could prevent another two million child deaths each year.
That last point is the driver for much of the work we do at World Vision to support immunisation. As part of our 7-11 health strategy we work to make sure communities, and particularly mothers and fathers, understand the value of immunisation. We also help to ensure that local health systems have the equipment, appropriately trained staff and resources needed to provide the full range of childhood immunisations.
We don’t usually supply immunisations. We could, but we know it doesn’t work as well as people might think. Immunisations that are not kept cold, not understood, not available to everyone who needs them, today, tomorrow and next year, are not our best approach to saving lives.
So instead of simply providing immunisations, we work with communities to set up systems to recruit, train, and supervise health workers to reach out to families with evidence-based information to help them understand how immunisations are important to ensuring the wellbeing of their families; and we advocate with governments to set-up sustainable health systems and overcome logistical barriers to supply of immunisations; so that communities have everything they need to make sure all their children are immunised, now and into the future.
All families, and all children, deserve access to the immunisations that can protect them from deadly diseases, so World Vision takes an evidence-based, sustainable approach to ensuring the children in the communities we serve can access the immunisations they need to stay healthy.