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UN health body calls for closing the immunization gap

The WHO's 2016 World Immunization Week promotes vaccines as the most successful, safe and cost-effective way to stop deaths from preventable diseases. Millions of people worldwide lack the most routine immunizations. The world is filled with nasty, but preventable, illnesses, some of which can cause disability or even death: human papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer), diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, rotavirus, rubella and tetanus. During World Immunization Week, held from April 24 to 30, the UN's health body wants to remind adults and children that a simple shot can prevent these diseases and many more. To do so, the World Health Organization (WHO) has scheduled a series of regional events and vaccination campaigns to showcase successes and highlight areas where global efforts need to focus. A priority for WHO is the estimated 18.7 million infants worldwide who have not been immunized against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus - vaccines that are routine in many nations. Sixty percent of those children are in just 10 countries. In Africa's "meningitis belt," running from Senegal to Ethiopia, a vaccine introduced five years ago has already been given to 230 million people. In what WHO describes as a "game changer," potential new vaccines against dengue fever, Ebola and malaria could define the future of immunization programs and health care. Missing goals Despite gains across several fronts, the world is lagging on achieving the goals set forth in a 2012 Global Vaccine Action Plan. Only one of the six targets - introducing new or underutilized vaccines to at least 90 low- or middle-income countries - was on track to meet the goal of 2020. Coverage for a triple vaccine for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis rose to 83 percent globally, but 65 countries are still below the 90 percent target. The goal of eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2015 was missed, as was wiping out measles from four regions and eliminating rubella from two regions. Half of the children around the globe have not received a rubella vaccine. In 2015, Africa moved closer to eliminating the disease after Nigeria was certified polio-free. The disease now remains endemic to only Afghanistan and Pakistan, two of the most dangerous places in the world for health workers. In a major step, a new polio vaccine regimen was introduced this month around the globe as part of a final push to finish off the disease.

The WHO’s 2016 World Immunization Week promotes vaccines as the most successful, safe and cost-effective way to stop deaths from preventable diseases. Millions of people worldwide lack the most routine immunizations. The world is filled with nasty, but preventable, illnesses, some of which can cause disability or even death: human papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer), diphtheria, hepatitis B, ... Read More »

WHO launches worldwide effort to completely eliminate polio

Officials hope a coordinated effort to launch a new vaccine worldwide will finally eliminate the polio virus. But going from a handful of cases to absolute zero is more difficult than it sounds, and will cost billions. More than 150 countries and territories launched a new effort on Sunday that health experts hope will lead to the complete eradication of the polio virus within the next year or two. Polio cases are currently just a fraction of the 1 percent of cases known in 1988, when 350,000 cases were recorded in 125 countries around the world. But eliminating the last strands of the virus could prove tricky, in part because it involves a well-synchronized switching of vaccines across the globe - and that starts today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The switch needs to be coordinated to prevent outbreaks in places where the old vaccine is no longer being used. The changeover is due to be completed by May 1. Thousands of monitors will be deployed around the world to confirm that the problem vaccine is no longer in use, according to the WHO. The old (trivalent) vaccine is geared to inoculate people from three strands of the virus. But the second strand has already been successfully eliminated in nature and now only exists through the vaccine. This is now the cause of most vaccine-caused infections, as it can gestate in the gut and be passed on to others via fecal-contaminated water. Wild polio The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The new (bivalent) vaccine is designed to inoculate recipients from only two strands (one and three) of the virus. There have only been 12 cases worldwide this year, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the prospect of spending $5.5 billion (4.9 billion euros - the cost estimated by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative) to eliminate polio may seem exorbitant. But Michel Zaffran, the WHO's director of polio eradication, said even more money will need to be spent to keep the disease from coming back. "Taking our foot off the pedal now could mean polio will within a few years spread straight back into large parts of the world and create 100,000 or 200,000 cases," Zaffran said. "The job has not been done and will not be done until we have fully eradicated the virus." This is not the first time health officials have come close to eliminating the virus only to suffer setbacks. The GPEI was set up in 1988 with the aim of eliminating the virus by the year 2000. That effort failed but experts say the effort is worth the cost of eliminating the virus once and for all.

Officials hope a coordinated effort to launch a new vaccine worldwide will finally eliminate the polio virus. But going from a handful of cases to absolute zero is more difficult than it sounds, and will cost billions. More than 150 countries and territories launched a new effort on Sunday that health experts hope will lead to the complete eradication of ... Read More »

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