Celebrating vaccines: World Immunization Week 2012

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared April 21-28 to be World Immunization Week, as a celebration and an opportunity to promote immunization, advance universal access to vaccination services, and enable cooperation on cross-border immunization activities. This has grown out of the U.S. National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), which started in 1994. There are events scheduled around the world, including talks, education sessions, family activities, national photo competitions, immunization clinics and handy guides to refute vaccine myths, as well as grants going toward a wide range of innovative projects.

Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases have fallen--for example, a study in The Lancet reported that deaths from measles fell 74% between 2000 and 2010. There is still a long way to go, however--the WHO target was 90 percent, and Anthony Lake, the executive director of the United Nations children's organization UNICEF, told the BBC that this still means 382 deaths from measles every day. "Every one of them could have been saved by a vaccine," he added. The same is true for pneumonia, which is reported to kill a child every 20 seconds worldwide.

There is a new WHO target, aiming for a 95% drop from 2000 levels by 2015, which will use a vaccine for both measles and rubella. Dr. Okwo-Bele, director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals at the WHO, told the BBC: "We have reason to be optimistic that the 95% goal will be achieved by 2015." A drop like this really would give World Immunization Week something to celebrate in 2015. -- Suzanne Elvidge (email)