Expert insight

How vaccinations help protect all ages of the population

9 December 2020
  • Laetitia Bigger Director, Vaccines Policy

This oped was originally published on Media Planet Value of Vaccines Q4 2020 Campaign on 10 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us how vulnerable the world is in the face of deadly pathogens.

Vaccines have been an essential tool offering protection from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pneumonia, and polio, diseases that once harmed or killed thousands of children every year.

Thanks to these essential tools, over the past decades, while often forgotten, adults can also benefit from vaccines. The benefits of a life-course approach to immunisation have been heavily documented and endorsed in a new vision of immunisation globally.

But COVID-19 is having a detrimental impact on the delivery of essential immunisation services, threatening to reverse hard-won progress to reach people of all ages with a wide range of vaccines.

The WHO and UNICEF warn that 2020 could be the first time in 28 years that the world sees a reduction in the annual childhood immunisation coverage rate. Gavi estimates that at least 13.5 million persons will miss out on vaccinations due to postponement of campaigns and interruptions in routine vaccinations in the short-term, and millions more will miss out in the longer-term.

Public health officials have also been sounding the alarm that adults also need to stay up-to-date on recommended and catch-up vaccinations for infectious diseases. As we approach winter, we need to ensure we do not overwhelm healthcare systems, already dealing with COVID-19, with vaccine preventable diseases, such as influenza.

The unique circumstances brought about by the current situation call attention to the importance of investing in vaccination coverage across the life-course to improve population health, promote health system sustainability, and strengthen pandemic preparedness and responsiveness.

Now is the time for stakeholders in the healthcare system to come together and put in place the necessary building blocks to recover from the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Building vaccines delivery platforms

One the key aspects will be strengthening public health systems for future mass vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines. This will be implemented by expanding vaccination delivery channels to include pharmacies, community delivery points and other non-clinical settings such as schools and residential homes.

Providing a more convenient access point to immunisation, closer to home, has been found to both reduce inequalities in access to healthcare and to help counter vaccine hesitancy.

Encouraging catch-up campaigns for all interrupted vaccine schedules not just the childhood ones will be as critical to prevent an overall great number of deaths in older adults and to contribute to longer, healthier lives.

Stakeholders need to collaborate across the board to ensure that COVID-19 and routine vaccines are delivered and administered in a timely and safe manner.

Getting serious about life-course vaccination in countries around the world will help make that a reality.

This #UHCDay, the Confederation of Meningitis Associations, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), the Global Coalition on Aging, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the International Federation on Ageing and the International Longevity Centre UK join forces to show how governments can strengthen pandemic preparedness and responsiveness by taking a life-course immunization approach which will expand access to vaccines, improve uptake, and help #ProtectEveryone.