Fifty years have passed since the US government pledged its political, financial, and technical resources to end smallpox—catalyzing the international effort that ultimately eradicated this disease, sparking the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work as a global leader and accelerating decades of vaccine innovation.
Since then, millions of people have been vaccinated around the globe, resulting in huge declines in mortality, including a more than 50 percent decline in child deaths from some of the world’s most deadly diseases. PATH often partners with the CDC on global immunization programs. Through our shared work, we recognize the tremendous value this US agency offers.
In celebration of the CDC’s lasting impact, we’ve chosen seven moments in history when they led the fight against the leading infectious diseases around the world.
1. Establishing a legacy of US leadership in global immunization
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared that the United States would join efforts with partners around the world to eradicate smallpox and provide funding to build the CDC Smallpox Eradication program. This action not only accelerated the campaign to end a global killer, it also launched a legacy of leadership and impact by extending the CDC’s mandate to global immunization.
2. Stopping the greatest global health threat of the century
For over 15 years, the CDC played a major role in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) effort to eradicate smallpox. D.A. Henderson was appointed to be the first CDC global immunization assignee to WHO in 1966 and led the Global Smallpox Eradication Program. In that time, the CDC became the leading technical partner for smallpox and measles vaccination campaigns in West Africa funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Carried out primarily by the CDC, the project fortuitously developed a technique called ring vaccination that makes rapid elimination possible. This method was used to eliminate smallpox in the rest of Africa and Asia. In 1980, WHO declared smallpox eradicated from the world.
3. Expanding immunization programs to prevent more diseases around the world
In 1974, CDC assignee Rafe Henderson supported WHO to establish the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) to develop and expand national immunization programs around the world with the goal of making immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP), poliomyelitis, measles, and tuberculosis available to every child by 1990. This was a mammoth undertaking, considering that when the EPI was established, fewer than 5 percent of children in developing countries were receiving a third dose of DTP (DTP3) and poliomyelitis vaccines in their first year of life. Six years into the program in 1980, global DTP3 coverage rose 20 percent. Global coverage for the vaccination reached 76 percent by 1990 and 83 percent by 2012.
4. Ending polio in the Americas
In 1985, when the Pan American Health Organization endorsed the goal to eliminate polio in the Americas by 1990, the CDC set the foundation for their current leadership in global polio eradication by supporting establishment of laboratory networks in the Americas region to detect and track poliovirus. In 1988, the CDC became a key technical and financial partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Thanks to this initiative, we are closer than ever to eradicating polio. The number of polio cases around the world fell from more than 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 72 cases of wild poliovirus in 2015. Only two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan—continue to struggle with endemic disease.
5. Data to introduce vaccines for new and emerging diseases
The CDC can be credited with significant contributions to the near-eradication of polio and progress in measles and rubella elimination, as well as strengthening the systems that deliver these and other new vaccines. For example, when PATH introduced the breakthrough MenAfriVac® vaccine against meningitis A in Burkina Faso in 2010, the CDC’s global health programs provided the surveillance data underlying the vaccine. Since then, MenAfriVac has reached more than 220 million people across Africa’s meningitis belt. In just five years, immunization has reduced cases of deadly meningitis A by more than 94 percent, and epidemics have nearly been eliminated—a major public health victory.
6. Setting a global plan to make immunization stronger, everywhere
In 2010, the CDC provided integral scientific and technical assistance throughout the development of the ten-year Global Vaccine Action Plan to support vaccine research and development and delivery of vaccines to the world’s poorest countries. The plan was designed as a framework for achieving the vision of the Decade of Vaccines: a mission to extend, by 2020 and beyond, the full benefits of immunization to all people, regardless of where they are born, who they are, or where they live.
7. Protecting the world from future pandemics
In 2014, the CDC and its partners launched an unprecedented public health response to stop the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. More than 1,000 CDC employees were sent to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and thousands more were dedicated to the response in the United States and around world. Soon after the outbreak, the CDC launched the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a growing partnership of the US government and nearly 50 partner nations to elevate global health security as a national and global priority. The GHSA ensures that immunization is a core component of efforts to protect, detect, and respond to diseases that threaten the health and well-being of individuals around the world.
The CDC’s legacy of impact and leadership in global immunization has saved countless lives and continues to protect many more.
For 50 years the CDC has been at the forefront of global immunization efforts, providing the technical expertise that allows governments and multilateral organizations worldwide to save lives and reduce suffering. Many of the vaccines and vaccine technologies that PATH helped develop were deployed and scaled through the CDC’s efforts. Their partnership has been critical, from utilizing devices and tools such as vaccine vial monitors and safe injection technologies to helping countries introduce new vaccines against the biggest killers of children.
Join PATH in celebrating the impact of US government efforts in immunization around the world.
MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Ltd.
- Erin Fry Sosne is a policy officer in our Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.