Global Vaccine Summit 2020: immunisation in the time of COVID-19

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Today, Thursday 4 June, sees the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson host the virtual Global Vaccine Summit 2020. Heads of State, private sector CEOs, global health leaders, civil society organisations and immunisation champions are uniting behind the mission of Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance. Why? To secure investments of at least $7.4 billion to immunise 300 million people by 2025, leaving no one behind, and saving up to 8 million lives over its 2021–25 strategic period.

The Global Vaccine Summit will celebrate the success of the Gavi Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has helped vaccinate more than 760 million children in the world’s poorest countries, preventing more than 13 million deaths. These achievements have been supported through the hard work of many multi-sectoral partners. Civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Save the Children play an important role in delivering vaccines and strengthening immunisation systems in hard-to-reach and fragile settings – rural remote areas, refugee camps, urban slums, and migrant populations. Through our teams across the world, Save the Children is supporting efforts to advocate for and provide access to life-saving vaccines. Every child has the right to immunisation as part of their right to health – and we do everything we can to uphold that right.

Now, more than ever, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to protect essential services like immunisation and ensure equitable access for the most vulnerable. Routine immunisation systems connect people to essential health and nutrition services and can also support early detection of new threats. And yet, global immunisation coverage continues to stall at 85%, and is likely to worsen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data shows the provision of routine immunisation services is disrupted in at least 70 countries due to COVID-19 and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of one. This means preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio could take hold again. We urge governments, donors and global health partners to re-double efforts in maintaining essential health services, including life-saving childhood vaccination to minimise the risk of secondary disease outbreaks and loss of life. This is critical to avoid the danger that the 2020s will become a ‘lost decade’ that obliterates important gains made in health and development progress over the last 30 years. Gavi has consistently demonstrated that it is the most effective fund for delivering vaccines. As one of the core elements of the basic package of health interventions, vaccines do the most to prevent disease, protect populations and build prosperity. Every dollar invested in immunisation delivers a return of $21, rising to $54 when broader societal benefits – healthier and more productive lives – are included.

Unexpected shocks, such as an outbreak, have the potential to overwhelm services – especially where healthcare systems are under-resourced and vulnerable to collapse. This is not a new phenomenon of COVID-19, but a crucial lesson that past outbreaks have shown us time and time again, be it cholera, measles, pneumonia, Ebola or Zika. Building responsive and resilient health systems at the local level needs to be an urgent priority of national governments and the global health community. The current COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to build back better. Taking a more systematic approach to strengthening health systems and outbreak preparedness – reliable supply chains, trained health workers, data systems and disease surveillance – will help fortify resilience within health services. As a matter of urgency, co-ordinated support is needed to ensure partnerships and investments help countries build strong and reactive health systems, with the capacity to provide services, as well as prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks. Particularly in the world’s poorest countries, access to routine childhood immunisation is already a challenge. As part of efforts to accelerate an effective, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccine, this is a moment for governments, donors and development partners to reflect and understand where there are critical gaps and barriers to access in immunisation services more widely.

As the UK hosts the Global Vaccine Summit 2020 with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, we urge all donors to pledge ambitiously for a fully funded Gavi, and to secure a successful replenishment so no one is left behind with immunisation. We call on Gavi, national governments, donors, development partners, vaccine manufacturers and the private sector to commit with their pledges to a transformative policy agenda, that will accelerate action and ensure that all children are reached through access to affordable vaccines and strong primary health care systems – a first step towards universal health coverage.