Expert Comment – Vaccines have saved more than 150 million lives

Landmark study led by the World Health Organization estimates the global impact of immunisation programmes
"Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical innovation in the last century, but there's still work to be done." Mark Jit, Professor of Vaccine Epidemiology, LSHTM

The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) has saved 154 million lives over the last 50 years – equivalent to six lives saved every minute of every year – according to a study published in The Lancet.

The research, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) with contributions from Professor Mark Jit and Dr Han Fu at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), analysed the global and regional health impacts of the initiative, which aimed to ensure equitable access to life-saving vaccines for every child regardless of where they live or whether or not they can afford healthcare.

Of the 154 million lives saved, the majority – 101 million - were those of infants.

This year, the WHO is marking the 50th anniversary of the EPI, now referred to as the Essential Programme on Immunisation. Originally covering six childhood vaccines, it now includes essential vaccines for 13 diseases and an additional 17 context-dependent vaccines, which are vaccines that are recommended for particular settings, such as cholera.

The analysis, which used mathematical and statistical models, looked at the number of deaths prevented, life years gained, and years of full health gained by vaccination against 14 diseases: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.

These vaccinations are estimated to have reduced infant death globally by 40% and by more than 50% in the African continent. In addition to preventing early deaths, the study found that for every life that has been saved through immunisations, a further 66 years of full health, that is years without disability, ill-health or early death, are gained.

Mark Jit, Professor of Vaccine Epidemiology at LSHTM, who contributed to the study, said:

“Half a century ago, with smallpox on the brink of eradication, the global community dared to imagine a future where countless lives could be spared from dying of many other diseases that could be prevented by vaccination.

“This new study brought together modelling groups and data sources from across the globe to assess the impact of this historic initiative. 

"The findings confirm that vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical innovation in the last century. But there’s still work to be done, as many people still don’t have access to vaccines that can avert needless suffering and loss of life.”

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