WMA Statement on the Prioritisation of Immunisation
Adopted by the 63rd WMA General Assembly, Bangkok, Thailand, October 2012
Vaccination use to prevent against disease was first done successfully by Jenner in 1796 when he used cowpox material for vaccination against smallpox. Since then, vaccination and immunisation have been acknowledged as an effective preventive strategy for several communicable diseases and are now being developed for the control of some non-communicable diseases.
Vaccine development and administration are some of the most significant interventions to influence global health in modern times. It is estimated that immunisation currently prevents approximately 2.5 million deaths every year, saving lives from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) and measles. Approximately 109 million children under the age of one are fully vaccinated with the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine alone.
Mostly the ultimate goal of immunisation is the total eradication of a communicable disease. This was achieved for smallpox in 1980 and there is a realistic goal for the eradication of polio within the next few years.
The Global Immunisation Vision Strategy (GIVS) 2006-2015 was developed by the WHO and UNICEF in the hope of reaching target populations who currently do not have immunisation services or who do not have an adequate level of coverage.
The four strategies promoted in this vision are:
- Protecting more people in a changing world
- Introducing new vaccines and technologies
- Integrating immunisation, other linked health interventions and
- Surveillance in the health systems context
- Immunizing in the context of global interdependence[i]
Vaccine research is constantly revealing new possibilities to protect populations from serious health threats. Additionally, new strains of diseases emerge requiring the adaptation of vaccines in order to offer protection.
The process of immunisation requires an environment that is resourced with appropriate materials and health workers to ensure the safe and effective administration of vaccines. Administration of vaccines often requires injections, and safety procedures for injections must always be followed.
Immunisation schedules can vary according to the type of vaccine, with some requiring multiple administrations to be effective. It is vitally important that the full schedule is followed otherwise the effectiveness of the vaccine may be compromised.
The benefits of immunisation have had a profound effect on populations, not only in terms of preventing ill health but also in permitting resources previously required to treat the diseases to be redirected to other health priorities. Healthier populations are economically beneficial and can contribute more to society.
Reducing child mortality is the fourth of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals, with immunisation of children having a significant impact on mortality rates on children aged under five. According to the WHO, there are still more than 19 million children who have not received the DTP3 vaccine. In addition, basic health care services for maternal health with qualified health care personnel must be established.
Immunisation of adults for diseases such as influenza and pneumococcal infections has been shown to be effective, not only in decreasing the number of cases amongst those that have received immunisation but also in decreasing the disease burden in society.
The medical profession denounce any claims that are unfounded and inaccurate with respect to the possible dangers of vaccine administration. Claims such as these have resulted in diminished immunisation rates in some countries. The result is that the incidences of the diseases to be prevented have increased with serious consequences for a number of persons.
Countries differ in immunisation priorities, with the prevalence and risk of diseases varying among populations. Not all countries have the same coverage rates, nor do they have the resources to acquire, coordinate, distribute or effectively administer vaccines to their populations, often relying on non-governmental organizations to support immunisation programmes. These organizations in turn often rely on external funding that may not be secure. In times of global financial crisis, funding for such programmes is under considerable pressure.
The risk of health complications from vaccine-preventable diseases is greatest in those who experience barriers in accessing immunisation services. These barriers could be cost, location, lack of awareness of immunisation services and their health benefits or other limiting factors.
Those with chronic diseases, underlying health issues or other risk factors such as age are at particular risk of major complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases and therefore should be targeted to ensure adequate immunisation.
Supply chains can be difficult to secure, particularly in countries that lack coordination or support of their immunisation programmes. Securing the appropriate resources, such as qualified health professionals, equipment and administrative support can present significant challenges.
Data collection on vaccine administration rates, side effects of vaccines and disease surveillance can often be difficult to achieve, particularly in isolated and under-resourced areas. Nevertheless, reporting incidents and monitoring disease spread are vital tools in combating global health threats.
The WMA supports the recommendations of the Global Immunisation Vision Strategy (GIVS) 2006-2015, and calls on the international community to:
- Encourage governments to commit resources to immunisation programmes targeted to meet country specific needs.
- Recognise the importance of vaccination/immunisation through the continued support and adoption of measures to achieve global vaccination targets and to meet the Millennium Development Goals, especially four (reduce child mortality), five (improve maternal health) and six (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases).
- Recognise the global responsibility of immunisation against preventable diseases and support work in countries that have difficulties in meeting the 2012 targets in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative[ii].
- Support national governments with vulnerable populations at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, and the local agencies that work to deliver immunisation services and to work with them to alleviate retrictions in accessing services.
- Support vaccine research and development and ensure commitment through the adequate funding of vital vaccine research.
- Promote vaccination and the benefits of immunisation, particularly targeting those at-risk and those who are difficult to reach. Comply with monitoring activities undertaken by WHO and other health authorities.Promote high standards in the research, development and administration of vaccines to ensure patient safety. Vaccines need to be thoroughly tested before implemented on a large scale and subsequently monitored in order to identify possible complications and untoward side effects. In order to be successful, immunisation programmes need public trust which depends on safety.
In delivering vaccination programmes, the WMA recommends that:
- The full immunisation schedule is delivered to provide optimum coverage. Where possible, the schedule should be managed and monitored by suitably trained individuals to ensure consistent delivery and prompt appropriate management of adverse reactions to vaccines.
- Strategies are employed to reach populations that may be isolated because of location, race, religion, economic status, social marginalization, gender and/or age.
- Ensure that qualified health professionals receive comprehensive training to safely deliver vaccinations and immunisations, and that vaccination/immunisations are targeted to those whose need is greatest.
- Educate people on the benefits of immunisation and how to access immunisation services.
- Maintain accurate medical records to ensure that valid data on vaccine administration and coverage rates are available, enabling immunisation policies to be based upon sound and reliable evidence.
- Healthcare professionals should be seen as a priority population for the receipt of immunisation services due to their exposure to patients and to diseases.
The WMA calls upon its members to advocate the following:
- To increase awareness of national immunisation schedules and of their own (and their dependents) personal immunisation history.
- To work with national and local governments to ensure that immunisation programmes are resourced and implemented.
- To ensure that health personnel delivering vaccines and immunisation services receive proper education and training.
- To promote the evidence base and increase awareness about the benefits of immunisation amongst physicians and the public.
[i] World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund. Global Immunisation Vision and Strategy, 2006-2015. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund; 2005. Available at: http://www.who.int/immunisation/givs/related_docs/en/index.html
[ii]World Health Organization. Global Polio Eradication Initiative: Strategic Plan 2010-2012. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2010. Available at: http://www.polioeradication.org/Portals/0/Document/StrategicPlan/StratPlan2010_2012_ENG.pdf