Immunizations Save Lives

WHO urges parents to continue to vaccinate their children

The World Health Organization urges Chinese citizens to continue to use quality-assured vaccines to prevent diseases in China. Immunization, while at the center of public debate in recent weeks, is one of the most effective, and cost-effective public health interventions in the world for preventing illness and death.

The proof is in the numbers. In 1964, just 15 years after the founding of modern China, around 43,000 people were paralyzed by polio disease across the nation. The same year, diphtheria--a bacterial infection that can lead to breathing difficulties and death-- made more than 150,000 Chinese citizens very sick. These diseases caused pain and suffering for countless numbers of people, over several decades. Compare that to today, when diseases such as diphtheria and indigenous polio have not claimed a single life in the world’s most populous nation since 2007 and 1994 respectively.

There are many other stunning success stories as a result of China’s immunization program. Serious disease rates tied to meningitis, which affected more than 3 million people in China in 1967, have fallen by 99 per cent since that time. Likewise measles, which infected nearly 10 million people in 1959, is rarely seen in China today. Pertussis (whooping cough) and mumps have similarly fallen dramatically.

Immunization has also dramatically reduced other vaccine-preventable diseases in China, including rubella, Japanese encephalitis, meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B among children. Between 1992 and 2014, an estimated 120 million hepatitis B virus infections and 28 million chronic infections were averted by the use of hepatitis B vaccine. Thanks to immunization, today’s generation of Chinese children are virtually hepatitis B free – meaning their risk of developing nasty diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer in the future are drastically reduced.

In short, over the last four decades, China’s Expanded Program on Immunization has fundamentally altered the course of the nation’s public health.

Globally, immunization currently prevents between 2-3 million deaths every year. Even more deaths, an additional 1.5 million could be avoided, if global immunization coverage is improved.

The facts are clear: immunizations save lives. Just over 50 years ago, populations plagued with polio--a disease that can cause nerve injury, paralysis and death--dreamed of a magic bullet to avoid the often fatal disease. That dream is now a global, widespread, readily available reality.

We understand that parents and the broader community are worried following the recent revelations of improper practices at one vaccine manufacturer in China, and that their faith in the immunization system has been shaken as a result. However, WHO also encourages China’s citizens to consider this event in the context of the importance of immunization as a public health intervention, and the achievements over several decades of China’s successful, life-saving immunization program. There are many Chinese people alive today who would not be, if not for immunization. While the events at Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Ltd should never have happened, the fact that the anomalies were detected by the regulators – and responded to quickly and robustly once so – shows that the regulatory authority’s system of checks and balances to protect population health is working.

Without widespread immunization, diseases that have largely disappeared in China run the risk of returning, jeopardizing public health and safety once again. WHO urges parents to continue to vaccinate their children. The continued success of the immunization program – and the health and well-being of this, and future generations of Chinese children – depends on it.

Media point of contact:

Wu Linlin
Media Focal Point
World Health Organization | People’s Republic of China | Beijing, China
Tel: +86 10 6532 7190, Ext. 81220