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Economy Threatens World Progress on Immunization

The third edition of the State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunization brought some good news about efforts toward immunizing children against vaccine-preventable diseases and the development of new vaccines, but also some dire warnings about how the global economic downturn might impede progress in immunization programs.

The report, issued in October by the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that there are now 106 million children receiving the required three doses of DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccine before their first birthday—a 74% increase in coverage since 2000. Despite this progress, 24 million children a year still fail to receive even a single dose of the DPT vaccine.

“This report is really a call to action aimed at everyone. We need to stick with it,” said Graeme Wheeler, managing director of operations at the World Bank, at an October 21 report launch in Washington, D.C. Wheeler said an estimated US$1 billion is needed annually to ensure that new and existing vaccines will be delivered to all children in 72 of the world’s poorest countries. The global economic downturn is causing concern that the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal to reduce deaths among children under age five by 66% between 1990 and 2015 will not be met if countries are forced to curtail their immunization campaigns.

The report noted that continued investments will also be needed to accelerate the development of vaccines against tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria, which are responsible for more than four million deaths a year, mainly in developing countries. There are currently about 80 vaccine candidates in the late stages of clinical testing—40 of them are aimed at diseases for which a vaccine does not yet exist. Of those, the malaria vaccine candidate known as RTS,S/AS01, which is being developed by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and is now being tested in a Phase III trial in Africa, was cited as a high-impact vaccine that was the furthest along in clinical testing.