Celebrating vaccinations and their role in global health

By now, we are all acutely aware of how a vaccine can change lives and, while researchers are frantically working on a Covid-19 vaccine, celebrating World Immunisation Week (24th to 30th April) should help us to maintain the optimistic perspective that will enable us all to get through the current pandemic.

The World Health Organisation’s website celebrates the huge immunisation successes the world has seen. For example, HPV is well known for its safe and effective targeting of cervical cancers, as well as many genital and throat cancers. The Hepatitis B vaccine offers 98 to 100% protection, preventing liver disease and liver cancer. Reassuringly, the WHO states that ‘many low and middle-income countries have taken huge strides in increasing immunization coverage’.

Although the WHO reminds us that there are still ‘nearly 20 million children not being immunised’ around the world, its website includes many inspirational accounts of nurses, midwives and volunteers who are working hard to change this. Their stories highlight the importance of vaccinations and the brave lengths people will go to in the hope of making their communities safer and healthier.

One such ‘vaccine champion’ is Noora Awakar Mohammad, a midwife from Somalia, who recounts her experience from the civil war. “As soon as the fighting would stop, we would run to communities to vaccinate children,” she recalls. Another midwife, Zainab Abdi Usman, explains, “During the civil war, I used to carry the vaccine in a thermos kettle to keep it cold and I would hide it under my Abaya [a robe-like dress].”

Stories from Denmark, Guatemala, Uzbekistan, Brazil and the Philippines all offer hope for the power of vaccines and the commitment of people who are striving to play their part in their success.

World Immunisation Week is celebratory and, in case anyone needed one at this critical time in medical history, it is clearly an important reminder of how vital vaccinations are for the health and well-being of the global community. The scientists who have developed the vaccines we now cherish and the healthcare workers and volunteers, like Noora and Zainab, who get them out into communities have achieved wonderful things in the past; they are sure to do so again.

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