Here in the United States, access to vaccines is not usually an issue, especially for patients with private insurance. With the Center for Disease Control’s federally funded Vaccines For Children (VFC) program, children who would otherwise be denied access to life-saving vaccines can still be vaccinated at no cost to the family. VFC was founded in 1994 to cover children under 19 years of age who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, underinsured, American Indian or Alaska Native. The administration fee for the shot is also covered for VFC-eligible children who are unable to pay, though doctors are paid a reduced rate for administration. These safeguards make it possible for all children in the U.S. to receive vaccination.
Like all federally-funded, state-administered programs, VFC has its flaws. But, it’s hard to argue that the US government is doing nothing to help our nation’s children have equal access to vaccines regardless of ability to pay.
What about children and families in countries that don’t have access to vaccine supply and adequate healthcare, much less the funding to support free vaccination for those who can’t afford shots? According to an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), 18.7 million infants were not “reached with routine immunizations services” in 2014. Challenges include limited resources, competing health priorities, poor management of health systems, and inadequate monitoring and supervision. Over 60% of those 18.7 million children live in just ten countries (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and South Africa).
Every 20 seconds, a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease, and one in five children doesn’t have access to the immunizations they need to have a chance at life. The UN Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign helps provide vaccines to over 30 million children around the world by focusing on increasing access to vaccines for measles, polio, pneumonia and rotavirus. The vaccines that prevent these illnesses are inexpensive and have been proven to reduce the number of child deaths.
WHO data on world immunization coverage in 2014 shows that vaccination for measles and polio is relatively high, at 85% and 86% respectively. However, global vaccine coverage for Rotaviruses, which children in developing countries are exposed to at higher rates, is strikingly low at just 19%. Pneumococcal, a vaccine for pneumonia, is also low, with worldwide coverage at 31% in 2014.
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea. Children in developing countries are at a higher risk of dying from diarrhea because of limited access to health care. Working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Shot@Life has raised funds to help provide oral vaccines Rotarix and RotaTeq to more than 53,000 children in over thirty of the poorest countries in the world.
Global immunization coverage 2014