This week (24 - 30 April 2020) marks World Immunisation Week. There has never been a more important time to recognise the huge role that vaccines play, not just in maintaining global health, but also in bringing economic stability and allowing our societies to thrive.
Vaccines have regularly occupied a prominent place in public debate, particularly in the last few years – from questions around lack of uptake and increasing rates of vaccine-preventable diseases to vaccine hesitancy and queries around provision. However, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the novel Coronavirus, has brought into sharp focus just how reliant we are on the preventative powers of vaccines to rid our societies of the scourge of disease. While the pattern of everyone’s daily lives is currently completely disrupted by the threat that SARS-CoV-2 poses to our communities, we must redouble efforts to put our resources towards research into this virus and its effects on the human body. As we speak, immunologists around the world are working night and day to develop a vaccine that will protect us against infection by this new Coronavirus. This research has moved at an impressive fast pace with several candidate vaccines already in clinical trials. This includes the inspirational efforts of immunologists at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London which brings hope to all of us. However, vaccine development is a notoriously difficult path and we will need all the skill and knowledge from researchers around the world to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
The British Society for Immunology’s Celebrate Vaccines campaign, originally launched on 26 March, was conceived before any of this happened. However, the emergence of this new microscopic pathogen brings into sharp focus the society-wide benefits that existing vaccines bring to our communities, and the importance of engaging with communities on the topic of vaccination. Diseases such as polio and diphtheria, which were once common, are now relatively rare. Due to vaccination campaigns, deaths from measles worldwide have decreased by 84% worldwide since 2000. These are significant success stories but we cannot be complacent. If we do not keep up vaccination rates, these diseases will take their chance to emerge again. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has seen decreased vaccination rates in recent years, last year recorded over 6,000 measles deaths, the majority of whom were children. Every death from a vaccine-preventable disease is a tragedy and the global health community must work together to get vaccines to all children who need them.
Sadly, many children in the world do not have the luxury of access to routine vaccinations. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, aims to change this. They are soon to start a new strategic cycle which looks to raise $7.4 billion to immunise 300 million children and save more than 7 million lives around the world – a truly impressive goal. Through appreciating the power of vaccines to transform the lives of individuals and societies around the world, we hope our Celebrate Vaccines campaign will engage and inform the national and international narrative about how vaccines work and why they are important for improving global public health.
Vaccines save lives. This World Immunisation Week, we invite you to celebrate the power of vaccines with us. Find out how to get involved.
> Learn more about #CelebrateVaccines
> Read the full policy report 'Protecting the World: 200 years of UK Vaccine Research'
> Explore our educational resources & public engagement kit
> Show your support on social media with our toolkit & explainer videos