When the media writes about vaccines in the U.S. and Europe, usually we're reporting on the endless controversy over whether some vaccines cause autism. (Short answer: they don't.) That's the luxury of wealth and health — thanks in no small part to the 20th-century legacy of mass vaccinations, virtually no parent in the developed world needs to worry that their child will be carried off by measles or rubella or polio or any of the other childhood diseases that once terrorized families. Vaccination is almost certainly the greatest triumph in the history of public health, even if it's one that many otherwise intelligent people feel free to turn their backs on.
In much of the developing world, however, access to vaccination can still mean the difference between life and death — and too often, it's the latter. That's why Monday's news from London that the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) had far surpassed its funding goals — raising $4.3 billion — is so welcome for global health.
During a time when we all – including the federal government – need to live within our means and find places to cut spending, any investments made by your government need to meet the test of whether it is an effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Immunizing children from preventable diseases meets that test. As USAID Administrator Raj Shah announced in London on Monday, by making a multi-year commitment to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), the US is able to get the most from our investment – leveraging a pledge of $450 million over three years more than eight-fold into billions of dollars in commitments from other donors, including the UK, the Gates Foundation, Norway and others.
Together, these commitments will help save the lives of 4 million children over the next five years, by getting more vaccines to more children and by helping to ensure the quantities of vaccines needed to lower the prices for new vaccines such as those that protect against pneumonia and diarrhea, the world’s two most potent childhood killers. All in all, we will be able to immunize more than 250 million children and prevent more than four million premature deaths.
Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy for the National Security Staff
A different perspective from a protest in London: