Four in five children (83%) worldwide received the recommended three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine during infancy in 2011, according to new data released in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record (WER).
The new data show sustained progress from the previous two years, and a significant achievement from when WHO's Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) was established nearly 40 years ago. At that time, fewer than 5% of the world's children were being vaccinated against these three deadly diseases.
Achieving DTP vaccination of infants before they reach 12 months is one of the most important indicators of how effective vaccination programmes are in reaching children with life-saving vaccines.
22 million children still miss out
While substantial progress has been made, the new data show more than 22 million children, mostly living in less-developed countries, missed out on the three basic vaccinations during their first year of life in 2011.
About half of all incompletely vaccinated children live in three countries: India, Indonesia and Nigeria. These countries have large child populations and their immunization programmes are hampered by occasional problems with vaccine supply and inaccessibility of vulnerable populations.
Global Vaccine Action Plan
At this year's World Health Assembly, Ministers of Health endorsed a landmark Global Vaccine Action Plan - a roadmap to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through more equitable access to existing vaccines for people in all communities. The Plan involves four goals:
strengthening routine immunization to meet vaccination coverage targets;
accelerating control of vaccine-preventable diseases;
introducing new and improved vaccines; and
spurring research and development for the next generation of vaccines and technologies.
"An accessible and well-functioning immunization programme should be a key component of public health services in every country," says Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of WHO's Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. "By supporting countries to strengthen their health systems through the implementation of the new Global Vaccine Action Plan, we can increase global access to vaccines and make an impact on the lives of millions of people."
Strengthening routine immunization services
An estimated 130 million infants are born each year. Vaccinating these children to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) as well as measles, polio, and other preventable diseases is vital to keeping them alive and healthy. WHO estimates that immunizations save between two and three million lives per year.
Strengthening routine immunization services is crucial to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing deaths among children under-five by two-thirds by 2015 compared to 1990.