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Vaccines and Immunizations

Global immunization programs drastically reduce death and suffering from diseases


Global immunization programs drastically reduce death and suffering from diseases, including rotavirus, whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, polio, measles, rubella, pneumococcal disease, and Japanese encephalitis, as well as Hib and other types of meningitis.[1]

Vaccines are a cost-effective and successful public health solution. Each year, they save the lives of approximately 2.5 million children. For every $1 invested in immunization, there is a $21 return over the lifespan of the immunized child, which includes saved treatment costs, lost wages and averted productivity losses.[2]

Because of strong U.S. support, a single vaccine protecting against three prevalent diseases — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, which also serve as general indicators of how well countries provide routine immunization services — grew in global coverage from 20% in 1980 to 85% by 2019.[3] However, that same year 14 million infants did not receive the benefits of full immunization, which is estimated to result in death from preventable disease for an estimated 1.5 million children annually.[4]

U.S. leadership has been essential for fast-tracking Ebola and Zika vaccine research efforts, as well as leading progress toward vaccines to protect against HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases. Global vaccine programs improve health security by stopping infectious diseases at their source and reducing the risk of importation, helping protect Americans at home and abroad. Strong immunization systems also help communities identify and respond to outbreaks, providing trained health workers, health surveillance strategies and related infrastructure to combat emerging diseases.[5]


Maintain funding for global immunization programs such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization, as well as the bilateral efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increasing access to vaccines will also require a continuation of the U.S. commitment to address WHO Global Vaccine Action Plan and Gavi 5.0 targets.

Continue to promote routine immunization as well as campaigns that target specific diseases when necessary as a key component of strong and healthy systems. Controlling and eliminating vaccine-preventable infectious and chronic conditions, as well as quickly responding to emergency outbreaks, is dependent on coordinated efforts that deliver a balance of routine immunization services and supplementary immunization programs.

Allocate the resources required by USAID and CDC to eradicate polio, without risk of resurgence, so that public health gains made are not lost. Failure to eradicate polio now could lead to a resurgence of cases within a decade that could paralyze up to 200,000 children a year.  Congress should also dedicate sufficient resources to address remaining barriers in the fight against measles and rubella.

Sustain research and development investments in vaccines through the National Institutes of Health, CDC, USAID, Department of Defense, FDA, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Continued support is required to transform today’s promising research into the lifesaving vaccines of the future.

Photo Credit: UNF Allison Shelley


The United States engages in immunization efforts through CDC, USAID, DOD, NIH, and FDA initiatives, as well as multilaterally, through support for and investment in Gavi, UNICEF, and WHO. The United States works alongside these and other dedicated partners in the Measles & Rubella Initiative, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea.

CDC’s Global Immunization Division provides countries with technical assistance and disease-surveillance support. USAID has provided commodities and technical assistance to more than 100 countries in support of childhood immunization programs. This involves strengthening logistics systems, helping countries budget funds to ensure their immunization programs are sustainable, and training health workers to target hard-to-reach and under-immunized populations.[6] Through USAID, the U.S. government invests annually in Gavi, which has supported the immunization of more than 822 million children since 2000.[7]Gavi’s unique public-private sector business model leverages economies of scale, aggregating demand across developing economies to send a clear signal to manufacturers of a large and viable market for vaccines. Gavi also works with private sector partners to encourage innovation in immunization and leverages these partners’ expertise and resources to modernize immunization systems in developing countries. [8]

Although this decade offers the extraordinary opportunity to end the transmission of polio forever and turn the tide against other preventable diseases like measles, the COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardized progress made so far and global investment must be redoubled to ensure these gains are not lost.


Immunization prevents outbreaks, saving human society from their devastating costs, but the pandemic has severely disrupted routine and campaign immunization around the world. In March 2020, of the 129 countries able to report routine immunization data, over half declared moderate to total disruption of immunization services. Polio and measles campaigns were also paused over the summer of 2020. While a 79% decline in measles deaths between 2000-2015 is a prime example of the benefit of vaccines, and one that saved 17.1 million lives, measles immunization coverage was plateauing even before the pandemic. Measles cases have now surged due to COVID-19 disruption, leaving more than 178 million children at risk of missing out on the vaccine.


  1. WHO Vaccines
  2. CDC Global Immunization Division
  3. UNICEF Immunization Programme


Danielle Gillerin, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance,

Madeline Kuney,  Sabin Vaccine Institute,

Aaron Emmel, American Academy of Pediatrics,

Mark Engman, UNICEF USA,

Brian Massa, United Nations Foundation,


[1] “State of the world’s vaccines and immunization: Third edition,” WHO, 2009.


[3] “2017 Assessment Report of the Global Vaccine Action Plan,” WHO, 2017.

[4] “Immunization coverage fact sheet,” WHO.

[5] “Beyond eradication: The United States’ role in sustaining public health gains achieved through polio programs,” PATH, 2016.

[6] “US investments in global immunization fact sheet,” PATH, 2015.

[7] “2019 Annual Progress Report,” Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

[8] “Industrialised Country Pharmaceutical Industry,” Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.