Global momentum is building behind efforts to improve access to, and uptake of, vaccines. The WHO has named ‘vaccine hesitancy’ in its Top 10 Global Health Threats, the EU is stepping up its support for immunisation, and technology companies are under pressure to act responsibility in the face of a global measles outbreak.
Behind the headlines and social media debates about ‘anti-vaxxers’, thousands of immunization programme managers go about their day job: trying to get vaccines to people who need them.
This requires a combination of funding, logistics and partnership with health professionals, supported by communication and engagement to ensure demand for vaccination.
These are the unsung heroes of disease control. They are the people who, notwithstanding recent setbacks, have gradually improved vaccine uptake around the world over the past 40 years.
Now, the Bill & Meldina Gates Foundation is to grant $3.5 million (€3.1m) to the Sabin Vaccine Institute – a leading advocate for expanding vaccine access and uptake globally – to support the International Association of Immunization Managers (IAIM).
The global network, originally launched with Gates Foundation support in 2013, already boasts more than 400 members from over 120 countries engaging in virtual or in-person activities. It brings together national and sub-national leaders for training and networking, giving them opportunities to learn from one another.
‘Immunization managers are our strongest advocates and implementers who can help expand immunization at the regional, national and sub-national levels,’ said Amy Finan, Sabin’s chief executive officer. ‘With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sabin looks forward to working alongside immunization managers to ensure all people, everywhere receive the vaccines they need.’
Through interviews, surveys and focus groups, Sabin has found that national and sub-national immunization managers share a desire to ‘connect, build leadership skills and gain access to management resources and professional development opportunities’. The IAIM Network will seek to respond to these needs.
‘We know that improving management capabilities and skills has a direct effect on program performance,’ said Dr Bruce Gellin, president of Global Immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute. ‘This network will empower immunization managers to get answers, grow in their role and raise their collective voice.’
Sabin is also part of the International Collaboration for Vaccine Acceptance, a new collaboration responding to vaccine hesitancy, led by Sabin’s Bruce Gellin.
Separately, work is under way on a new global hub for vaccine acceptance and demand. The initiative brings together UNICEF, WHO, GAVI, the US CDC and the Gates Foundation, to deliver better support and technical assistance to countries delivering vaccination programmes.
Global organisations are writing a new chapter in the coordinated effort to tackle vaccine-preventable diseases.