Counting the impact of vaccines

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The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era for vaccines and immunization, reminding the world of the power of vaccines to bring us closer to a safe and healthy future. To maximize the lifesaving impact of immunization over the next decade, WHO and its partners are launching the Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030), an ambitious global strategy that envisions a world where everyone, everywhere, at every age fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being.

Immunization is a vital component of primary health care, reaching more people than any other health or social service. Here are three ways immunization benefits our world.

1. Immunization saves lives and protects peoples’ health

Immunization keeps people healthy and has reduced the number of deaths from infectious diseases dramatically. Between 2010 and 2017, the mortality rate of children under 5 years of age declined by nearly a quarter. (1) Measles vaccines alone prevented 25.5 million deaths since 2000, and enormous progress towards the eradication of polio – which can cause lifelong paralysis and sometimes death – have brought cases down by over 99% since 1988. (2,3)

Vaccines benefit not only infants and children but also older people. They can prevent infection-related cancers caused by viruses like hepatitis and HPV, and protect the health of the working population, the elderly and the vulnerable, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives. In addition, fewer infections mean less risk of transmitting disease to relatives and other members of the community.

2. Immunization improves countries’ productivity and resilience

Immunization is the foundation of a healthy, productive population. Every dollar invested in immunization programmes in 94 low- and middle-income countries over the next decade will return more than US$ 52 by lowering treatment costs, boosting productivity, and reducing long-term disability. (4)

Vaccines also protect countries from the overwhelming economic impact of disease outbreaks. As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, disease outbreaks are disruptive and costly. They can overwhelm and profoundly disrupt public health programmes, clinical services, and health systems, and keep children out of school. They may also have adverse effects on travel, tourism, trade and overall development.

For seasonal diseases like influenza, the costs of treatment and lost productivity are borne repeatedly. Immunized communities are resistant to infectious disease outbreaks, and strong health systems and immunization programmes can rapidly detect and limit the impact of infectious diseases.

At the individual level, preventing infections through immunization helps reduce families’ healthcare costs and provides financial protection against out-of-pocket payments that could have a catastrophic impact on household finances.

3. Immunization helps ensure a safer, healthier world

Vaccines are key to global health security. Outbreaks of highly infectious diseases, such as measles and COVID-19, have shown us how quickly disease can spread between countries in an increasingly interconnected world. In 2019, measles cases increased in countries where it had been previously eliminated, partially due to low vaccination rates among travelers. (5)

Immunization can help us prevent and respond to future infectious disease threats. Immunization and disease surveillance are core capacities required by the International Health Regulations (2005). They contribute to resilient, sustainable health systems that can respond to outbreaks, public health risks and emergencies. A recent study found that a 10% increase in these core capacities (e.g., surveillance and risk communication) is associated with a 20% decrease in the incidence of cross-border infectious disease threats. (6)

Immunization is critical to the prevention and control of communicable diseases; strengthening country productivity, which contributes to economies; and helping to ensure a safer, healthier world. Vaccines provide a profound return on investment and are a key component of improving health and well-being for everyone, everywhere.


  1. Global burden of disease. Seattle (WA): Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation; 2017.

  2. Patel MK, Goodson JL, Alexander JP Jr., et al. Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination — Worldwide, 2000–2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1700–1705.

  3. Poliomyelitis. World Health Organization; 2019

  4. Sim SY, Watts E, Constenla D, et al. Return On Investment From Immunization Against 10 Pathogens In 94 Low- And Middle-Income Countries, 2011–30. Health Affairs. 39(8):1343-1353.

  5. Patel M, Lee AD, Redd SB, et al. Increase in Measles Cases — United States, January 1–April 26, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:402–404.

  6. Semenza JC, Sewe MO, Lindgren E, Brusin S, Aaslay KK, Mollet T, et al. Systemic resilience to cross‐border infectious disease threat events in Europe. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2019;66(5):1855–63.