Vaccine campaigns continue to miss 22 million children

Some 22 million children are being missed by vaccine campaigns and another one million lives could be saved annually if the children are reached, the director-general of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

Margaret Chan made the remarks on Wednesday during her keynote lecture on research for universal health coverage during the Global Vaccine and Immunization Research Forum in Bethesda, Md. Chan said that great progress was made since the Expanded Programme on Immunization was established in 1974.

At that time, just five percent of the world's children were protected from the six killer diseases targeted by the vaccines. Today, the percentage of children protected worldwide is approximately 83 percent. In some developing countries the immunization coverage has reached 99 percent.

Chan said there is still work to be done to reach the rest of the world's children.

"Some 22 million children are still being missed," Chan said. "If access to existing vaccines can be improved, another one million lives could be saved each year. It is the unrealized potential of vaccines and immunization, including these 22 million children who are missing out, that underpins the Decade of Vaccines, the Global Vaccine Action Plan, and much of the research agenda for this forum."

Chan cited five lessons developing countries can learn when it comes to reforming their health systems to reach universal coverage. The lessons include developing new products or improving existing ones, continued research long after a new product has been licensed and put into use, the development of multiple solutions to a problem, making industry a partner and the use of time-limited projects that generate incentives to innovate.

"Taken together, these lessons provide an encouraging message for all health programs," Chan said. "When the barriers to good program performance are identified, research can help break them down, often through simple and ingenious solutions."

Chan closed by saying that immunization programs have matured and are now able to take a great leap ahead. She said such programs are just getting started as they aim ever higher.