Over 150 countries, including the U.S., observe April 25-30 as Infant Immunization Week, as occasion for raising awareness about the importance of immunization and, in some places, intensifying vaccination activities. MCHIP recognizes National Infant Immunization Week because we are dedicated to ensuring that every infant and woman of childbearing age in the developing world is fully immunized. To achieve this goal, MCHIP is working with global, regional, and national partners to strengthen health systems by building local capacity to offer effective and sustainable vaccination services. Immunization is encouraged during routinely provided service as part of maternal, newborn and child healthcare packages at the community health center level.
MCHIP strengthens the capacity of Ministries of Health to fully vaccinate all infants in a timely way with good quality services. In addition, MCHIP promotes infant immunization during counseling with pregnant women and mothers, including TT (tetanus toxoid) immunization for all pregnant women through focused antenatal care (FANC), and recommending Polio birth dose, (OPV0) hepatitis B birth dose, and BCG (TB) vaccines for newborns. Around the world, immunization prevents three million child deaths each year, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 20 percent of the remaining under-five mortality—approximately 1.6 million deaths annually—could be prevented with existing vaccines.
In collaboration with Ministries of Health, WHO, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CDC, USAID bilateral projects, and other partners, MCHIP provides focused technical assistance on all aspects of immunization and vaccine-preventable disease control at sub-national, national, regional and global levels. MCHIP also advises many WHO- and UNICEF-led expert groups on immunization practices, cold chain and logistics, communications, equity, polio, measles, tetanus, and other subjects. In FY2011, MCHIP is focusing on increasing identification and tracking of pregnant women and newborns—to begin vaccination with OPV0 and BCG at birth and strengthen routine coverage with all vaccinations by 12 months of age.
MCHIP partner JSI recently helped more than 10 countries revise their multi-year immunization plans and draft their applications to GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) for new vaccine introduction. This will improve their future immunization programs and their ability to address Millennium Development Goal 4 (Reduce Child Mortality) and decrease morbidity and mortality from pneumonia and diarrheal disease.
The recommended vaccination schedule for children provides an opportunity for multiple health care contacts with infants and their mothers during the first year of life, which has made immunization outreach a platform for routine delivery of other interventions. For example, MCHIP collaborated with FHI to review and document efforts to integrate family planning and immunization services and is exploring the programmatic aspects of such integration in Liberia.
Success in reducing vaccine-preventable mortality has been dramatic, but it cannot be taken for granted. For example, one million newborns died of tetanus 30 years ago compared to about 130,000 last year—an 87 percent reduction. This achievement must be maintained and improved upon every year to further decrease neonatal mortality from tetanus. And, while national vaccination coverage in some countries now exceeds 80 percent, coverage is not the only metric. Before they are exposed to disease, women and newborns must be reached in every geographic region of every country with potent vaccines and high-quality services in a safe, timely, effective, and affordable manner so that they return to complete all their doses.
Robert Steinglass, Immunization Team Lead and
Joseph de Graft-Johnson, Newborn Team Lead