Over the past year, Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi and Yemen have all joined the growing list of developing countries that have introduced vaccines against rotavirus as part of their standard national immunization programs. Yet the vast majority of the world’s children still remain at risk of infection by this vaccine-preventable pathogen, which can cause fatal gastrointestinal disease. And the situation isn’t much better for several respiratory diseases, either.
According to the latest global survey of routine vaccine coverage, tens of millions of children last year missed out on some or all of the basic recommended immunizations.
The rotavirus vaccine as well as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, were administered to less than 15% of all kids outside the Americas and Europe, the report found. Similarly, global coverage of the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, which protects against a bacterium responsible for bacteremia and pneumonia, among other diseases, was only 43% last year among youngsters, despite the shot being recommended in routine childhood vaccination schedules in more than 90% of the world’s nations.
There is reason for optimism, though. More than four in five children worldwide now routinely receive the four lifesaving vaccines that the WHO began recommending in 1974. These include the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP), bacille Calmette-Guérin, oral poliovirus and attenuated measles vaccines. By comparison, forty years ago less than 5% of all children received a full dose of the DTP vaccine, for example.
“The report offers us gold medals in some places and offers us challenges in others,” says William Schaffner, a vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.
Efforts are now in place to boost all these numbers. Earlier this year, the WHO’s World Health Assembly adopted a global vaccine action plan that outlines plans to meet certain immunization target levels in every region, country and community in the world by the end of the decade.