Vaccination Likely Saved A Whopping 154 Million Lives Over The Last 50 Years

In 1974, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its program to make vaccines accessible to children across the globe. Now, 50 years later, a new study suggests that vaccination has had a significant impact on public health, helping to avoid millions of deaths.

Though WHO’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) began with the goal of vaccinating all children against seven diseases – including the now-eradicated smallpox – the list has since expanded to target 14 pathogens.

The new study examined the impact of the vaccines for these pathogens on both regional and global public health since the EPI commenced in June 1974 up until its 50-year anniversary in 2024.

This was achieved using mathematical and statistical modeling to provide estimates of three key measures: the numbers of deaths averted, the number of life-years gained, and the number of years of full health gained.

The results of the combined 22 models suggest that 50 years’ worth of global vaccination efforts has had a substantial impact: 154 million lives were estimated to have been saved since 1974 as a result of immunization, with death swapped for an average of 66 years of full health per person.

Where the program appears to have made its biggest impact in terms of age is on society’s youngest. Modeling found that 101 million of the 154 millions deaths estimated to have been averted were of people younger than a year old. It also suggested that vaccination was responsible for 40 percent of the decline in global infant mortality, making it the biggest contributor to that reduction.

Whilst all of the vaccines included were found to have made their mark, the measles vaccine had the most significant impact – even if measles has had something of a resurgence in the last few years.

“[M]easles vaccination accounted for 60 per cent of the total benefit of vaccination over the 50-year period, which was also the greatest driver of lives saved,” said Dr Andrew Shattock, who led the study, in a statement.

The authors conclude the results are a testament to what can be achieved through collaboration, and call for efforts to persist.

“Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” added WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in another statement. “Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing back the frontiers of disease.” 

“With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”

The study is published in The Lancet.

Leave a Comment