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Vaccines are one of the most efficient ways of saving lives and keeping people healthy


Being immunised through vaccination is one of modern medicine's most powerful ways to save lives and prevent illness from potentially fatal infectious diseases. Few other health interventions have had such a major effect on mortality reduction.1 Vaccines' track record speaks for itself:

  • Smallpox: declared eradicated by WHO in 1979 after a global vaccination effort.
  • Polio: endemic in 125 countries in 1988, causing approximately 350,000 cases; today endemic in only three countries, with an estimated 74 cases in 2015.2,3  
  • Measles: in the 2000-2015 period, widespread vaccination reduced the number of measles deaths by 79%; saving more than 20 million lives.4  
  • Meningitis A: in three regions of Chad, efforts to vaccinate 1.8 million people led to a 94% decrease in meningitis rates.5  
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): Hib vaccine, introduced in Uganda in 2002, has virtually eliminated Hib meningitis there. In Kilifi, Kenya, invasive Hib disease decreased by more than 90% in the 12 years following vaccine introduction.6  
  • Rotavirus: in Mexico, phased introduction of rotavirus vaccine in 2006 and 2007 was followed by a 56% reduction in diarrhoea mortality.7  


The global effort to extend vaccination to developing countries began in 1974, when WHO founded the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). This initiative helped countries establish the infrastructure to deliver a package of six vaccine antigens, protecting against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio.

Throughout the 1980s, WHO and UNICEF joined forces to achieve universal childhood immunisation with the six EPI vaccines. Today, all developing countries have national immunisation programmes and most of the world's children are immunised with at least these vaccines.

By 2015, vaccination was averting between 2 and 3 million deaths every year from measles, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis alone.8  


The last 25 years have seen a surge in the number of new vaccines, with more than 30 common infectious diseases now preventable through immunisation.

Since the launch of Gavi in 2000, more and more developing countries have introduced relatively new vaccines, such as pneumococcal, rotavirus, hepatitis B and Hib vaccines, into their routine vaccination programmes.

With support from Gavi, hepatitis B and Hib vaccines are now provided in all the world’s low-income countries – from only around 5% in 2000. Pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which protect against pneumonia and diarrhoea – the two leading causes of child death – have been introduced in the majority of the world’s poorest countries.

Since 2012 Gavi supports HPV vaccines, which protect women against the most common types of cervical cancer. The vast majority of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries. It is estimated that HPV vaccination in Gavi-supported countries in 2016-2020 could help prevent 600,000 deaths in the long term.

1 Jamison DT, Breman JG, Measham AR, Alleyne G, Cleason M, Evans DB, et al, editors. Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. 2nd edition. Oxford University Press and the World Bank. New York. 2006.

2 World Health Organization. Factsheet on Poliomyelitis. 2016 Apr; available at Retrieved 2016 Sept

3 Maurice, J. And then there were two…polio-endemic countries. The Lancet. 2015 Oct; 386(10003): 1521-1522

4 World Health Organisation. Measles Factsheet. 2016 Nov; available at Retrieved 2016 Dec.

5 Dougla D.M, Gami J.P, Gamougam K, Naibei N, Mbainadji L. Effect of a serogroup A meningococcal conjugate vaccine (PsA-TT) on serogroup A meningococcal meningitis and carriage in Chad: a community study. The Lancet. 2013 Sept: 383(9911):40-7.

6 Hammitt L.L, Crane R.J, Karani A, Mutuku A, Morpeth S.C, et al. Effect of Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccination without a booster dose on invasive H influenzae type b disease, nasopharyngeal carriage, and population immunity in Kilifi, Kenya: a 15-year regional surveillance study. The Lancet. 2016 Mar: 4(3):185-194.

7 Richardson V, Parashar U, Patel M. Childhood diarrhea deaths after rotavirus vaccination in Mexico. The New England Journal of Medecine. 2011 Aug: 365(8).

8 World Health Organisation. Global Immunisation Factsheet. 2016 Sept;available at Retrieved 2016 Sept

>268 million

By the end of 2016, 19 countries in the African meningitis belt had immunised over 268 million people against meningitis A with Gavi support.

WHO/UNICEF and Gavi 2017

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