Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Immunization highlights: 2012


New vaccines, new opportunities

100 millionth person received lifesaving meningitis vaccine

Sylvestre Tiendrebeogo/WHO

In December 2012, the 100 millionth person was protected from epidemic meningitis by the new conjugate vaccine, developed in a project coordinated by WHO and PATH known as the Meningitis Vaccine Project. This is an extraordinary achievement just two years after the vaccine, MenAfriVac was launched in Burkina Faso. Since then, nine other countries have held vaccination campaigns to protect people from ages 1 to 29 against meningitis A.

"This milestone has been achieved thanks to the commitment of national governments and support from WHO and other partners. We must continue our efforts to implement vaccination campaigns in the remaining meningitis belt countries and ensure widespread uptake of the MenAfriVac vaccine."

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health

History of epidemics

Seasonal meningitis A epidemics threaten the lives of as many as 450 million people living in the meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. The disease causes a painful inflammation of the lining around the brain and the spine that can kill people within 24 to 48 hours. Those who survive often face severe learning difficulties, deafness, or amputated limbs. Children and young adults are most at risk. In the largest-ever seasonal epidemic in Africa’s history, in 1996-1997, meningitis A infected 250,000 people and killed 25,000. In 1997, African ministers of health appealed to WHO and other partners to find a lasting solution to the dreadful disease.

In 2001, PATH and WHO formed the Meningitis Vaccine Project to develop a vaccine that would tackle the meningococcus strain that causes meningitis A at a price that African countries could afford. Historically, new vaccines have either not been designed to cover variants of diseases found in developing countries or have been too expensive for developing countries to include in their immunization schedules. The partners worked with the Serum Institute of India Ltd. to develop and manufacture the vaccine at a cost of less than US$0.50 per dose.

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WHO's impact in supporting more countries to introduce new vaccines

By December 2012, 10 countries had introduced the human papillomavirus, pneumococcal conjugate and rotavirus vaccines, with WHO’s technical support: Belgium, Colombia, Israel, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Panama and Rwanda.

These introductions represent a major milestone ― the gap between access to new vaccines between developed and developing countries is shortening; it is extraordinary to see a new vaccine launched in a developing country within one to two years of its introduction in the Americas and Europe, while in the past, it has taken several years (averaging 15 years) between the introduction of new vaccines in developed and developing countries.

Pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines training materials by WHO

Various training materials have been developed by WHO to assist countries in preparing for new vaccines introductions. These included slide sets consisting of modules for training healthcare workers as well as pocket and visual guides that trainers can use in situations where there is no electricity or computers.

Ghana, first African country to introduce two life-saving vaccines

In April 2012, Ghana made history as the first African country to simultaneously introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in its national immunization programme in a bid to fight pneumonia and diarrheoal diseases, each of which accounts for approximately 10% of under-five deaths in the country.

Ghana’s commitment to public health through immunisation has been consistently improving since 1978 when the Expanded Programme on Immunization was launched. By preventing disease, Ghana’s double launch will also prevent the time and cost of expensive medical care and treatment, contributing to poverty reduction and a growing economy.

"Immunisation rates for infants in Ghana now stand at over 90%. In addition to the strong routine immunisation programme, the country also conducts supplemental immunisation activities to reduce the incidence of diseases such as polio, measles and yellow fever."

Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, Deputy Director-General, World Health Organization

Pakistan is first South Asian country to launch vaccine against childhood pneumonia

In October 2012, Pakistan introduced pneumococcal vaccine to protect Pakistani children from pneumonia – a disease that takes the lives of approximately 1.3 million children globally before their fifth birthday. With this launch, Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine.

The partnership between the Government of Pakistan and the GAVI Alliance – which includes WHO, UNICEF and civil society, among many other partners – to deliver this life-saving vaccine to Pakistan's children, as well as a renewed commitment to strengthening the current routine immunization system, provides a solid foundation for a stronger, healthier nation. Read more at:

"The World Health Organization welcomes the launch of the pneumococcal vaccine in Pakistan. Above all, we must not lose sight of the heavy infant and child mortality burden facing Pakistan's families; the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine represents an important milestone in the fight to reduce this burden."

Dr Guido Sabatinelli, WHO Representative in Pakistan

WHO’s participation in the GAVI board meeting and GAVI Partners’ Forum

Dr Flavia Bustreo, represented WHO on the GAVI board and at the GAVI Partners’ Forum where she highlighted the need to establish equity in access to vaccines by focusing on every child, every community and every woman and the critical gains that can be achieved with integrated service delivery of vaccines with available effective commodities in further combatting pneumonia and diarrhea and reducing under-five mortality. Read more at:

"We can use vaccines as the edge of a movement that will improve the health of every woman and child. We have heard the message loud and clear. It is important to go that last mile to reach the last child in remote communities, to have the ability to identify where that child lives, when they are born, to register them. Globalized equity means every child every woman everywhere."

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health

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