Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Vitamin A supplementation


Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the immune system and the healthy growth and development of children, and is usually acquired through a healthy diet. However, it is estimated that, globally, 190 million children under five years of age are affected by vitamin A deficiency1. These children suffer an increased risk of visual impairment (night blindness), illness and death from childhood infections such as measles and those causing diarrhoea. The fourth Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five years of age by 2015. Vitamin A supplementation is an important component of the strategies required to reach this goal.

Provision of vitamin A supplements every four to six months is an inexpensive, quick, and effective way to improve vitamin A status and reduce child morbidity and mortality in the long term. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem, routine vitamin A supplementation is recommended in infants and children 6-59 months of age as a public health intervention,2 and has been shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality by 24%.3 Comprehensive control of vitamin A deficiency should include strategies for dietary improvement and food fortification as well.

Combining the administration of vitamin A supplements with immunization services is an important part of the effort to eliminate vitamin A deficiency and save lives. Millions of children have received vitamin A through National Immunization Days (NIDs) to eradicate poliomyelitis. Vitamin A supplementation has been successfully linked with vaccination campaigns and routine immunization services in many countries. Providing high-dose supplementation to mothers at immunization contacts soon after delivery provides a further benefit to young infants through enriched breast milk.