World Immunisation Week provides a chance for the world to celebrate the amazing achievements of immunisation efforts globally. UK aid alone has immunised over 67 million children against preventable diseases, and global immunisation programmes save 2–3 million lives each year. The world is also on the brink of eradicating a second disease from the planet, with polio cases having decreased by 99% since 1988. These extraordinary achievements are only achievable with the commitment of everyday people and the political will from decision makers to make them possible.
No where can the impact of people power and political will be seen more than in the UK’s very own city of Hull. Yes, that’s right, Hull. Whilst Hull usually conjures images of the City of Culture, the Humber Bridge and John Prescott, its lesser known triumph was that is was once at the heart of the drive to eradicate polio from the UK.
In 1961, Hull had an explosive outbreak of polio, with 180 suspected cases of polio admitted to Castle Hill Hospital in three months. Two people died and paralysis affected many, with the greatest number of cases amongst school-children. The determination of people and government to prevent the polio outbreak was vast, and the city sprang quickly into action to implement a vaccine-drive on a mass scale. The live oral vaccine against polio had just been created and Hull was the first city in Western Europe to use it on a mass scale. Vaccination centres were set up in schools, church halls, clinics and even a department store. Health workers, community leaders, the local council and 300 volunteers all worked together to vaccinate over 350,000 people in just two weeks – 55,000 more people than the population of Hull at the time.
This marked the beginning of Europe’s first mass vaccination campaign and led the way in eliminating this devastating disease, and the UK has continued to be a leader in eradicating polio across Europe and the world to this day. Here at RESULTS UK, we know that governments play a central role in allocating resources and setting policies for global health and to fight diseases. We work with MPs and Peers across all parties to cultivate long-lasting polio and immunisation champions that will help us fight for our mission to eradicate polio.
Over the past few years our engagement with parliamentarians on polio has helped achieve a lot. We helped to establish the One Last Push campaign which has been instrumental in mobilising parliamentary champions to end polio from all over the world. The campaign has over 100 parliamentarians signed up from Australia, Canada and the UK, who have been engaged in a huge variety of activities. In the UK, activities have included a World Polio Day event in Trafalgar Square that pitted parliamentarians and the GB wheelchair basketball team against each other and a letter to the then Secretary of State for International Development which garnered over 40 MP signatures. These activities helped to secure the UK pledge of £100 million of new funding for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), last year. In real terms, this means UK aid will immunise 45 million children against polio each year until 2020.
Of course, at RESULTS UK we want to ensure that every last child has an equal chance in life and we’ve been expanding our work with parliamentarians to ensure that every last child is immunised with all 11 essential World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccines. The UK is a world leader in its funding of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and UK aid will immunise 300 million children from 2016 – 2020. We want to ensure that the Governments commitments do not end there. Over 19 million children remain unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, and the UK must continue to confront challenges to ensuring equitable access to vaccines, so no child is left behind. This is why, last year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Vaccinations for All, a group of cross-party MPs and Peers headed by Dr Philippa Whitford MP, was established and aims to raise the political profile of the importance of routine immunisation around the world and within the UK. RESULTS UK provides the secretariat for the APPG in order to support its running and ensure it has the greatest impact. This year, the APPG will raise the political profile of the importance of vaccines in a variety of ways, including debates and events. It has also just launched an inquiry to assess the reasons for low and stalling immunisation rates and the role of the UK in ensuring all children receive all 11 WHO recommended vaccines. It is hoped that this will build further political will towards continued UK support for immunisation and drive progress towards equitable and sustainable delivery of vaccinations for all.
World Immunisation Week runs from 24 – 29 April 2018. The One Last Push campaign will be running activities in Hull all World Immunisation Week to celebrate their success in leading polio eradication efforts. You can find out more here.
To find out more about the APPG on Vaccinations for All and to keep up-to-date with all things vaccine-related, follow @APPGVaccination.