Vaccines are biological preparations that improve immunity to a particular disease without exposing one to the danger of the live disease. The first successful vaccine developed against a contagious disease was the smallpox vaccine in 1796, which eventually led to smallpox becoming the only human disease so far to have been completely eradicated by vaccination. To date, immunizations have been developed for 20 deadly diseases, and prevent 2-3 million deaths every year. The World Health Organization has been committed to the equitable distribution of vaccines since the establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in 1974, which is now the United Nations’ main vehicle for distributing vaccines globally. Vaccines have also been recognized as an indisputable human right by the UN and are supported as such by Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2015 the World Health Organization passed the Global Vaccine Action Plan, explicitly raising attention to the growing inequities between Member States due to the increased financial burden of new vaccines. In 2020, WHO reported that 23 million children missed out on critical vaccinations due to the impacts of the pandemic, 3.7 million more than in 2019. Ensuring vaccine distribution is safe in the Covid-19 era is another hurdle to increasing vaccination rates and securing public trust. In August of 2021, WHO rolled out the COVID-19 Immunization in Refugees and Migrants: Principles and Key Considerations Guide to help countries implement equitable Covid vaccine distribution strategies among refugees and migrants, which have been historically medically marginalized. It is also important to note the direct impact of wealth inequality on vaccine inequality. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted these disparities, as future stock of COVID-19 vaccines are more readily secured by nations with higher economic development. Further information sharing and data collecting are needed to obtain vaccine equity. The World Health Organization has stated that monitoring data at subnational levels is critical to helping countries address immunization gaps. This will help countries to develop vaccination strategies tailored to their own needs.
How can the World Health Organization can expand data-sharing, vaccine education, and vaccine distribution capacities? The unique needs of individual countries when it comes to production and distribution of vaccines. Additionally, it is important to consider what social and economic barriers may stand in the way of vaccine equity and access worldwide. The United Nations recognizes health as an inalienable human right, how do vaccines contribute to the maintenance of that right?
The Right to Health Fact Sheet no. 31, 2008:
World Bank Infectious Diseases and Vaccines:
World Health Organization. Vaccines and Immunization: