May 25, 2012 | The Editors

Better vaccines, better access

Earlier this month, we told you about plans to consider a roadmap to provide universal access to vaccines that have the potential to save more than 20 million lives by 2020. Today, the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, endorsed that plan.

At PATH, we’re both happy and encouraged. As an active member of the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration—the group that wrote the roadmap, called the Global Vaccine Action Plan—we believe that providing access to childhood vaccines is one of the most effective ways to put health within reach of everyone, no matter where they live. You can learn about our work toward that goal in a special web feature, The Power of Vaccines.

Vaccines save lives

Right now, four out of every five children worldwide get at least a basic set of vaccinations when they’re babies. That means 20 percent—19.3 million children in 2010, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)—don’t receive full protection against diseases like diphtheria, measles, and polio.

We know these vaccines save millions of lives and prevent untold suffering. Thanks to childhood vaccines, measles deaths fell by 74 percent worldwide in the decade between 2000 and 2010, WHO reported. Polio cases have decreased by more than 99 percent since 1988, and we’re poised to eradicate a disease that once terrorized the world.

Check out our video about the potential of vaccines.

Steps along the road

The World Health Assembly’s action today means the global community can begin implementing the Global Vaccine Access Plan. They’ll start by working with countries to adapt the plan for their own immunization programs and developing a plan to measure progress toward achieving the plan’s goals over the next decade.

Beyond that, the action plan looks forward by outlining steps toward introducing new and improved vaccines and encouraging research and development into the next generation of vaccines and technologies. But it also suggests actions to strengthen routine immunization and speed up control of vaccine-preventable diseases, starting with the eradication of polio as a first measure of success.

All four goals work together toward surpassing the targets of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal No. 4, which calls for reductions in global childhood mortality. But there’s a simpler way to explain why today is a good day for us: we’re closer to saving the lives of more children who die because they can’t get the vaccines that might save them.

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