Immunization is a success story for global health and development, saving millions of lives every year. Between 2010 and 2018, 23 million deaths were averted with measles vaccine alone (1). The number of infants vaccinated annually – more than 116 million, or 86% of all infants born – has reached the highest level ever reported. More than 20 life-threatening diseases can now be prevented by immunization (2). Since 2010, 116 countries have introduced vaccines that they did not use previously (3), including those against major killers like pneumococcal pneumonia, diarrhoea, cervical cancer, typhoid, cholera and meningitis.
Furthermore, there has been much innovation in vaccine development. There are now vaccines to protect against malaria, dengue and Ebola virus disease, and promising vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus, tuberculosis and all influenza virus strains are in the pipeline. New research on broadly neutralizing antibodies and therapeutic vaccines is opening fresh horizons. Increasingly, vaccines are protecting health beyond infancy – in adolescence and adulthood, during pregnancy and for older people.
Innovative ways are being found to distribute and administer vaccines and to improve immunization services. Digital tools, new, needle-free techniques for vaccine administration and more robust vaccine storage and supply chains promise to transform immunization programmes over the next decade. Timely access to reliable data will provide new opportunities for national programmes to monitor and continuously improve their performance, reach and efficiency.
Vaccines are critical to the prevention and control of many communicable diseases and therefore underpin global health security. Moreover, they are widely seen as critical for addressing emerging infectious diseases, for example by containing or limiting outbreaks of infectious diseases or combatting the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Regional outbreaks (e.g. of Ebola virus disease), the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of future pandemics (such as with a novel flu strain) have and will continue to strain even the most resilient health systems. A clear risk is a reduction in essential services and particularly vaccination and prevention of other communicable diseases. Countries should identify essential services that to be prioritized and maintained during emerging infectious disease threats and move as soon as feasible to provide missed vaccinations. In the longer term, intensive, collaborative investments in research and development and equitable supplies of new vaccines are likely to be part of the solution to averting recurrences.
Nevertheless, important challenges remain. The benefits of immunization are unevenly shared: coverage varies widely among and within countries. Some populations – often the poorest, the most marginalized and the most vulnerable, in fragile, conflict-torn settings – have poor access to immunization services. Each year, 20 million infants do not receive a full course of even basic vaccines, and many more miss out on newer vaccines. Of these, over 13 million receive no vaccines through immunization programmes – the “zero dose” children.
In some countries, progress has stalled or even reversed, and the risk that complacency will undermine past achievements is real. Outbreaks of measles and vaccine-derived polioviruses are stark reminders that strong immunization programmes and effective disease surveillance are necessary to sustain high levels of coverage and to eliminate and eradicate diseases. Because measles is highly infectious, its presence serves as a tracer (the “canary in the coal mine”) of inadequate coverage and gaps in the health system. Detection of measles cases through surveillance reveals communities and age groups that are unor under-immunized and immunization programmes and overall primary health care systems that are inadequate, indicating where particular attention and interventions are needed. High coverage with measles vaccine is an indicator of a strong immunization programme, which may signal a solid foundation for primary health care services. The second dose of measles vaccine is an opportunity to enhance focus on strengthening immunization programmes to reach children beyond the first year of life and to broaden immunization services throughout the life-course.
If all people are to access immunization services, vaccines must be delivered to areas that are isolated geographically, culturally, socially or otherwise and to marginalized populations such as displaced people and migrants and those affected by conflict, political instability and natural disasters. The causes of low vaccine use must be understood and addressed in order to increase people’s demand for immunization services. Adequate, predictable supplies of appropriate, affordable vaccines of assured quality must be available at points of service delivery, and stock-outs must be avoided. Tailored strategies are necessary for understanding and overcoming barriers to vaccination, particularly genderrelated barriers of caregivers and health workers to accessing immunization services. New approaches are required to reach older age groups and to deliver people-centred immunization services, integrated with primary health care.
The Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030) sets an ambitious, overarching global vision and strategy for vaccines and immunization for the decade 2021–2030. It draws on lessons learnt, acknowledges continuing and new challenges posed by infectious diseases and capitalizes on new opportunities to meet those challenges. IA2030 positions immunization as a key contributor to people’s fundamental right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable physical and mental health and also as an investment in the future, creating a healthier, safer, more prosperous world for all. IA2030 aims to ensure that we maintain the hard-won gains and also that we achieve more – leaving no one behind, in any situation or at any stage of life.
IA2030 is intended to inspire and align the activities of community, national, regional and global stakeholders – national governments, regional bodies, global agencies, development partners, health care professionals, academic and research institutions, vaccine developers and manufacturers, the private sector and civil society. Its impact will be maximized by more effective and efficient use of resources, innovation to improve performance and measures to attain financial and programmatic sustainability. Success will depend on building and strengthening partnerships within and outside the health sector as part of a coordinated effort to improve access to high-quality, affordable primary health care, achieve universal health coverage and accelerate progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
IA2030 provides a long-term strategic framework to guide a dynamic operational phase, responding to changes in country needs and the global context over the next decade. This document is therefore just the beginning. The IA2030 global vision and strategy will be complemented by annexes providing detailed technical information on the strategic framework, together with new and existing strategies and immunization plans, including those for disease-specific programmes to control, eliminate or eradicate disease. IA2030 will become operational through regional and national strategies, a mechanism to ensure ownership and accountability and a monitoring and evaluation framework to guide country implementation.
Through collective endeavour by all stakeholders, we will achieve the vision for the decade: A world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being.