In 1736, Benjamin Franklin stressed the importance of fire prevention when he said that "an ounce of prevention is better than cure." Franklin would have not realized that his advice would go beyond fire fighting and have important public health implications today.
Preventing diseases remains the most important health strategy that eliminates the burden of social and financial risks associated with curative or palliative care. Along with improved sanitation and water safety, vaccination is one of the most important and cost-effective public health innovations, and has saved about 2.5 million lives each year.
In May this year, the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA) acknowledged, "vaccination is, and should be recognized as, a core component of the human right to health and an individual, community and governmental responsibility." It added that as an integral part of a comprehensive package for disease prevention and control, vaccines and immunization are investments in the future of a country.
Immunization helps protect children so that they may have the opportunity to achieve their full potentials. The World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed that as a result of immunization, along with other health care and development interventions, the number of deaths among children under five fell from an estimated 9.6 million in 2000 to 7.6 million in 2010, despite an increase in the number of children born each year. Vaccinations are likewise enabling adults and the elderly to live more productive lives.
While the last century was the so-called "century of treatment" following the discovery and use of antibiotics, the WHA is confident that this century will be the "century of vaccines" with the potential to address a number of serious, life-threatening or debilitating infectious diseases.
In the last 10 years, research and development came up new sophisticated vaccines such as pneumococcal vaccines and vaccines against rotavirus and human papilloma virus. Meanwhile, several vaccines are in development for neglected tropical diseases such as dengue, cholera and malaria. Also in the pipeline are vaccines for various types of cancer, allergy, HIV and other infectious diseases, as well as neurological disorders, among many others.
The WHO said that there are now vaccines to prevent or control about 25 infections.
Vaccines against hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b have become part of national immunization schedules around the globe. Poliomyelitis is close to eradication while a huge number of deaths from measles are being prevented every year. The number of deaths caused by measles, neonatal tetanus, pertussis and poliomyelitis fell from an estimated 0.9 million in 2000 to 0.4 million in 2010. (For the full report, go to www.who.int)
Milestone have been achieved with the commitment and support of governments and international stakeholders. The immunization program data for 2010 revealed that 154 of the 193 WHO Member States have specific budget line item for immunization, while 147 have developed multi-year national plans to sustain and/or enhance the campaign and introduce new vaccines.
In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DoH) implemented the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), established in 1976 to ensure that infants/children and mothers have access to routinely recommended infant/childhood vaccines. Initially included in the EPI are tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles vaccines.
Furthermore, Republic Act No. 10152 or the "Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011" mandates basic immunization for children under five. Specifically, this law provides for all infants to be given the first dose of the Hepatitis-B vaccine within 24 hours of birth.
The DoH said that rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines will be introduced in the immunization program this year. Immunization will be prioritized among the infants of families listed in the National Housing and Targeting System for Poverty Reduction.
Given the progress made in the immunization and vaccination drive worldwide, the global health community made a call for a "Decade of Vaccines" (2011-2020) whose vision is a world in which all individuals enjoy lives free from vaccine-preventable diseases. The mission of the Decade of Vaccines is to extend, by 2020 and beyond, the full benefit of immunization to all people, regardless of where they are born, who they are, or where they live.
To achieve this, a global vaccine action plan was created to build on the success of the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (2006-2015). The plan emphasizes existing goals and sets new goals for the next 10 years, while proposing six strategic objectives and the actions that will support their achievement.
Among the six fundamental principles of the plan are country ownership, shared responsibility and partnership, equity, integration, sustainability, and innovation. How these will be translated into specific country and community contexts to address unmet needs will be crucial in achieving national health goals and international commitments on health like the Millennium Development Goals.