What a year. The last World Immunization Week (WIW) took place amid a cloud of gloom. Hundreds of vaccines were in the early stages of development, but few imagined that within 12 months several would be approved for use.
The theme for this year’s WIW is: Vaccines Bring Us Closer. The focus is on the potential of vaccines to bring us back together with friends and family after long spells of isolation and distancing.
Beyond COVID-19, vaccine advocates are highlighting the power of immunisation to end suffering from smallpox (which has been eradicated), polio (which could be the next disease to be wiped out), and vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.
In the past 30 years, there has been a 50% decrease in child deaths thanks in large part to vaccines. In that time, new vaccines have been developed to help protect against pneumonia, cervical cancer, Ebola and more.
However, despite these advances, millions of children worldwide miss out on basic childhood vaccines every year. And, in many countries, adult vaccination is not a priority.
The WHO, which is leading the global campaign for immunisation week, is also emphasising how vaccines also bring us closer to ‘a healthier, more prosperous world’. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the link between public health and economic health.
‘In today’s interconnected world, an outbreak anywhere is a threat everywhere,’ the Organisation says. ‘Vaccines are one of the best tools we have to improve health and wellbeing around the world.’
Immunisation helps us to grow into healthy adults, and to stay in good health as we age, increasing our potential to participate in our communities and in the workforce.
While COVID-19 continues to spread in Europe and around the world, with new variants of concern reminding us that the pandemic is far from over, there is reason for cautious optimism. We have vaccines. They are working. The prospect of better times ahead is getting closer.