Mapping Vaccines to Save Lives

Vaccines cause adults. It’s that simple.

Routine childhood vaccination is unequivocally one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions, protecting millions of children from preventable illness and death and allowing them to grow into adulthood.

Before vaccines were developed, diseases like measles, diphtheria and tetanus killed thousands of children every year. Even children who survived these illnesses were often adversely impacted for life. They could also pass these diseases onto others, leading to harrowing local and regional outbreaks. As a parent, I feel quite adamant: No one should watch their child suffer from an illness that is easily prevented by a vaccine.  

That’s why it’s so heartening to see continued progress in vaccination rates, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where too many children remain at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. The most recent paper from the Local Burden of Disease team here at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) maps coverage of diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus vaccines in infants across the entire African continent, using data collected from nearly 900,000 children.

The results show that many nations have made substantial gains at the national level, but coverage still often varies widely within nations. In over a third of the countries studied, there was more than a 25% difference in vaccination levels across districts. The data shows us that national-level estimates are not enough. National estimates can mask underlying gaps in vaccine coverage at the local level. Precise data helps identify pockets of low coverage where additional support for vaccination programs can make the biggest difference.

Existing data on vaccine coverage at subnational levels is patchy and often inaccurate, making it difficult to target resources. These new IHME results bring to light trends across nations and regions and help track progress towards the Global Vaccine Action Plan targets of 90% national coverage and 80% coverage for all districts within countries by 2020. This is a worthy goal and we’re eager to play our part in achieving it. Parents who make the choice not to vaccinate perhaps do not appreciate the incredible value of having a vaccine ready at hand. This new data can help those who never had the choice in the first place to protect their children, and advance better health for all.