Vaccination is one of the true wonders of humanity, since it has saved more lives than any other medical invention and it has made it possible to control diseases that previously proliferated without control. However, we often don’t appreciate how much they have changed human life for the better.
At the beginning of the last century, infectious diseases they caused more than a third of all deaths in the United States, killing a higher proportion of people than cancer and heart disease today. Today, vaccines have made common diseases like diphtheria, typhoid, measles, and whooping cough virtually extinct. During the 20th century, they sickened more than a million Americans a year. Today, that number has been reduced by 98%.
This panorama is even more dramatic if we look at the poorest areas of the world. Smallpox was one of the most serious infectious diseases, killing indiscriminately for millennia, before finally being eradicated in 1977 thanks to a vaccine. It killed an estimated 300 million people throughout the 20th century, and without the vaccine, this disease alone could continue to kill 5 million people each year.
Current global vaccinations (excluding smallpox, since the disease was long eradicated) are estimated to save 3.8 million lives each year.
Yet each year millions of children in the poorest parts of the world remain unvaccinated. This situation was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, which put health systems to the test and caused 25 million children miss out on some or all of their vaccinations in 2021. That was 5.9 million more than in 2019 and the highest number since 2009. Even in Mexico, the vaccination rate dropped from 82% in 2019 to 78% in 2021. It is say that 410 thousand Mexican children were not vaccinated.
Unfortunately, the recession, inflation and many other global problems have caused us to lose sight of the enormous potential that vaccines offer.
Leaders from around the world pledged in 2015 to dramatically reduce child mortality by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This can only be achieved if we get all vaccine-preventable diseases under control.
Unfortunately, there are too many different promises in the SDGs: 169 targets. There is little difference between having 169 priorities and having none. Because the SDGs promise too much, we are failing to deliver on any of the promises. This year marks the middle of the SDG period, but we are nowhere near halfway to achieving the intended results. On the current trajectory (and not including the setback during COVID), we will meet the promise of the SDGs on vaccines more than half a century late.
We have to identify and prioritize our most crucial goals. My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, along with several Nobel laureates and over a hundred leading economists, have done exactly that: identify where each Mexican peso invested can have the greatest impact.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) have documented both the costs and benefits of increasing global investment in vaccination. If we continue at our current level of spending, we will continue to save 3.8 million lives from preventable diseases by 2030.
But if we were to slightly increase that coverage, pushing it up as has consistently happened in recent decades, things would get even better. In the next eight years, from 2023 to 2030, we could save 4.1 million more lives.
This would have real costs. As we expand vaccination campaigns to places that are more difficult to access and to families that have not previously participated, the costs increase. The example of India, which uses food incentives and vaccination “camps” to ensure greater coverage, may need to be copied.
However, the additional financial cost will remain relatively modest: an extra $1.5 billion a year, along with about $200 million in additional time costs. Saving half a million lives a year is an incredible opportunity. Using standard economic assessments over time, and considering that the nearest avoided impacts in time are more important, such a benefit is worth about $170 billion annually.
This means that every dollar invested will generate $101 in social benefits. Getting 100 to 1 value for money is an absolutely phenomenal performance, in a policy to increase global vaccination.
Of the hundreds of promises the world has made in the SDGs, most of which will never be fulfilled, a few stand out as incredibly effective. The increase in vaccination is clearly one of these policies. If we want to achieve the greatest good for the world, we must step up and ensure that resources are allocated to increase vaccination.
Bjorn Lomborg He is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has been considered one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire magazine and one of the 50 people capable of saving the planet by The Guardian newspaper, of the United Kingdom. United. The most recent book of his in Spanish isFalse alarm: Why panic over climate change won’t save the planet