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25 April 2024

Vaccines: Catalysts for Health and Prosperity with Far-Reaching Implications

By Francesca Ceddia, Chief Medical Affairs Officer, Moderna
Vaccines For Life 2024

Vaccines are one of the greatest public health interventions of the 20th century, second only to clean water in their impact on human health.¹ We now have vaccines to prevent more than 20 diseases, preventing 3.5 to 5 million deaths every year from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles.² Our collective achievements to-date in immunization are a demonstration of what science, community and international cooperation can accomplish.

However, the collective value of adult immunization programs remains overlooked, made evident by inconsistent access to adult vaccinations across countries and limited inclusion in routine immunization schedules.³ In recent years, vaccine uptake has stalled in certain diseases due to a variety of factors, including disruptions in health services during the pandemic, economic downturns and a rise in vaccine hesitancy.⁴ As a result, the world is seeing sudden outbreaks of diseases such as diphtheria and measles - diseases that, until now, were well managed.⁵

Not only does this week mark World Immunization Week, but it is also the 50th anniversary of the World Health Organization’s Essential Program on Immunization (EPI), a program that plays a critical role in providing universal access to life-saving vaccines worldwide through comprehensive immunization efforts. While we often dwell on the many health benefits of vaccines, we have an opportunity to also examine them as powerful drivers of more productive economies and resilient societies, and to highlight global collective action needed to keep us all well protected against preventable diseases.

The Role of Vaccines in Advancing Healthier Societies
Vaccinations are renowned for their direct health benefits, including:

  • Reducing disease complications, including chronic conditions and some cancers:
    Vaccines can significantly decrease the incidence of severe complications associated with certain diseases. For example, by preventing viral infections like the flu, vaccines reduce the risk of secondary bacterial infections, which can lead to serious conditions such as pneumonia.⁶ Additionally, some vaccines have been shown to lower the likelihood of diseases with long-term health consequences, such as liver cancer resulting from chronic hepatitis B infection or cervical cancers as a result of HPV infections. ⁷

  • Reducing antibiotic resistance: By preventing bacterial infections, vaccines contribute to a reduction in the use of antibiotics, which in turn helps to slow the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. ⁸

  • Generating herd immunity and protecting vulnerable populations: When a significant portion of a community is immunized, herd immunity can be achieved, reducing the spread of disease within the population. ⁹ This indirect protection is especially important for individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, such as those with compromised immune systems, and it helps to prevent outbreaks of diseases.¹⁰

The ripple effect of vaccination goes far beyond an individual's health, with downstream influence on various aspects of healthcare systems, our economies, and society as a whole.

The Compounding Benefits of Vaccination
This month, the Office of Health Economics (OHE) released results from a first-of-its-kind study that examined the wider economic and social impact of immunization, sponsored by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA). Their research ultimately found significant evidence for the value of adult immunization for population health, health systems and societies as a whole, supporting the critical role these programs play in addressing major health and societal challenges. ¹¹ Across a sample of ten countries, the value generated by four adult immunization programs, including influenza, pneumococcal, herpes zoster (HZ) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) offset their cost multiple times:

  • Adult vaccination programs can return up to 19 times their initial investment when the full spectrum of economic and societal benefits is valued. ¹²

  • This translates into the equivalent of billions of dollars in net monetary benefit to society, or more concretely, up to $4,637 per individual full vaccination course. ¹³

With recent respiratory seasons defined by high rates of COVID-19, RSV and flu, along with rising rates of chronic conditions and an aging population, healthcare systems are under immense pressure to manage an influx of patients.¹⁴ Addressing these challenges requires a paradigm shift from treatment to prevention, and this research offers a compelling argument for investing in immunization programs that delivers returns through cost savings for healthcare systems and offer wider tangible and intangible economic benefits.

Vaccination as a Cornerstone of Public Health
A healthier population is a more productive one. Vaccination programs also play a critical role in bridging health disparities for underserved populations, and contribute to global health security by controlling the spread of infectious diseases. The more studies we can conduct that showcase the benefits of adult immunization programs for healthcare systems, economies and global health, the more we can adequately inform policy decisions and promote vaccination as a fundamental aspect of not only helping us live longer and healthier lives, but also promoting thriving societies.