The historical impact that vaccines have had on civilization has been far-reaching. As more vaccines have been developed to address many acute and sometimes chronic ailments and diseases, it has become increasingly obvious that inequities exist, especially between countries.
As a rule of thumb, the wealthier the country, the more access to medical care and vaccines, while the opposite is true for poorer countries.
The History of Vaccines
Accounts of the first vaccines being developed date back to the 1500s in China. It is said that physicians took smallpox scabs, ground them up, and blew them into the faces of patients. The idea behind vaccines was to expose the body to the virus in a small amount so that it would be more equipped to fight off the virus.
This idea of inoculation against smallpox was later implemented across Europe and adapted by using the cowpox virus. The contraction of this virus is known to be less deadly, but exposure to it would also aid in fighting off smallpox.
In the 1940s, technological advances allowed for large-scale vaccine production, helping to herald in access to more vaccines than ever before.
Since the development of the smallpox vaccine, over 20 other illnesses and diseases have seen the creation of a vaccine to help prevent their negative impact – one of the most popular being the MMR vaccine.
In 1974, the World Health Organization (WHO) established what was referred to as the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), helping to make more vaccines available throughout the world. As a result, the world saw the eradication of smallpox became a reality in 1980. An additional win for vaccines worldwide also resulted in the eradication of Polio in 1994.
Vaccine Distribution in Poor Countries
The WHO made it their mission to have at least 70% of the population fully immunized; however, in Sub-Saharan Africa, they fell short of this goal. Less than 60% of countries achieved the vaccination goals set by the WHO. This is in part due to supply issues, financial aid, and technical support.
In order for low-income countries to obtain a higher vaccination status, they would have to increase their healthcare spending by over 50%. The global pandemic has intensified the focus on increasing vaccinations across the board, however, and these barriers are being shattered as there has been an increase in funding to advance vaccine availability.
As this push for better vaccine availability has increased, proper labeling and storing of vaccines has become vital. This helps to ensure that vaccines do not go bad and that the right vaccines are being provided.
Unfortunately, access to vaccines is not the only barrier that less equitable countries face when trying to increase vaccine numbers. Although vaccines have been made available throughout the world, some countries still struggle with the distribution of vaccines. In countries that don’t also tout a well-educated populace, especially among women, children are less likely to be vaccinated.
It is vital that vaccines are made available to all countries, despite wealth, and all people, despite age and economic status. Because the elderly are more prone to being at risk, WHO organizers must find the best way to ensure that vaccines are easily accessible.
It is also important to find ways to make vaccines available to children in poorer environments. For some children, they may have limited access to healthcare and education – two key environments that would help to facilitate vaccination.
Although financial aid is being provided to allow access to vaccines, there are many other key factors that contribute to a population getting fully vaccinated. Thus far, less equitable countries are fighting an uphill battle, as they are contending against cultural factors that decrease their vaccination status.
Since the 1500s, many advancements in technology have helped to expand the science of vaccines. Additionally, access to vaccines is very nuanced, as there are many cultural aspects that contribute to a country vaccinating their population on a wide scale.
Fortunately, with additional funding provided by the WHO and other organizations, the inequity that exists across the world in regard to vaccine availability is slowly dwindling.