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Immunization protects millions of children

1 November 2013 — Immunization prevents an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. This newly updated fact sheet shows that the proportion of the world’s children who receive basic vaccines has held steady for the past few years, and newer vaccines are being introduced in more countries than before. For example, two key vaccines to prevent meningitis and pneumonia: by the end of 2012, Hib had been introduced in 184 countries, and pneumococcal in 88 countries.


Immunization coverage

Fact sheet N°378
Updated November 2013

Key facts

  • Immunization prevents illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases including diphtheria, measles, pertussis, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus.
  • Global vaccination coverage is holding steady.
  • Immunization currently averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year.
  • But an estimated 22.6 million infants worldwide are still missing out on basic vaccines.


Immunization averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. Global vaccination coverage—the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines—has remained steady for the past few years. For example, the percentage of infants fully vaccinated against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) has held steady at 83% for the last three years.

During 2012, about 110.6 million infants worldwide got three doses of DTP3 vaccine, protecting them against infectious diseases that can cause serious illness and disability or be fatal. By 2012, 131 countries had reached at least 90% coverage of DTP3.

Current levels of access to recommended vaccines

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) causes meningitis and pneumonia. Hib vaccine was introduced in 184 countries by the end of 2012. Global coverage with three doses of Hib vaccine is estimated at 45%.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver. Hepatitis B vaccine for infants had been introduced nationwide in 181 countries by the end of 2012. Global coverage with three doses of hepatitis B vaccine is estimated at 79%.

Human papillomavirus — the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract — can cause cervical cancer, and other types of cancer and genital warts in both men and women. Human papillomavirus vaccine was introduced in 45 countries by the end of 2012.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, which usually results in a high fever and rash, and can lead to blindness, encephalitis or death. By the end of 2012, 84% of children had received one dose of measles vaccine by their second birthday, and 146 countries had included a second dose as part of routine immunization.

Meningitis A is an infection that can cause severe brain damage and is often deadly. By the end of 2012—two years after its introduction—more than 100 million people in 10 of the 26 African countries affected by the disease had been vaccinated with the MenAfriVac vaccine, developed by WHO and PATH.

Mumps is a highly contagious virus that causes painful swelling at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), fever, headache and muscle aches. It can lead to viral meningitis. Mumps vaccine had been introduced nationwide in 120 countries by the end of 2012.

Pneumococcal diseases include pneumonia, meningitis and febrile bacteraemia, as well as otitis media, sinusitis and bronchitis. Pneumococcal vaccine had been introduced in 88 countries by the end of 2012, and global coverage was estimated at 19%.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that can cause irreversible paralysis. In 2012, 84% of infants around the world received three doses of polio vaccine. Only three countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan—remain polio-endemic.

Rotaviruses are the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in young children throughout the world. Rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 41 countries by the end of 2012, and global coverage was estimated at 11%.

Rubella is a viral disease which is usually mild in children, but infection during early pregnancy may cause fetal death or congenital rubella syndrome, which can lead to defects of the brain, heart, eyes and ears. Rubella vaccine was introduced nationwide in 134 countries by the end of 2012.

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium which grows in the absence of oxygen, e.g. in dirty wounds or in the umbilical cord if it is not kept clean. It produces a toxin which can cause serious complications or death. The vaccine to prevent maternal and neonatal tetanus had been introduced in 103 countries by the end of 2012. An estimated 81% of newborns were protected through immunization. Maternal and neonatal tetanus persist as public health problems in 30 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. As of 2012, yellow fever vaccine had been introduced in routine infant immunization programmes in 36 of the 48 countries and territories at risk for yellow fever in Africa and the Americas and coverage was estimated at 37%.

Key challenges

Despite improvements in global vaccine coverage during the past decade, there continue to be regional and local disparities resulting from:

  • limited resources;
  • competing health priorities;
  • poor management of health systems; and
  • inadequate monitoring and supervision.

In 2012, an estimated 22.6 million infants worldwide were not reached with routine immunization services, of whom more than half live in three countries: India, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Priority needs to be given to strengthening routine vaccination globally, especially in the countries that are home to the highest number of unvaccinated children. Particular efforts are needed to reach the underserved, especially those in remote areas, in deprived urban settings, in fragile states and strife-torn regions.

WHO response

WHO is working with countries and partners to improve global vaccination coverage, including through these initiatives adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2012.

The Global Vaccine Action Plan
The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is a roadmap to prevent millions of deaths through more equitable access to vaccines. Countries are aiming to achieve vaccination coverage of ≥90% nationally and ≥80% in every district by 2020. While the GVAP should accelerate control of all vaccine-preventable diseases, polio eradication is set as the first milestone. It also aims to spur research and development for the next generation of vaccines.

The plan was developed by multiple stakeholders—UN agencies, governments, global agencies, development partners, health professionals, academics, manufacturers and civil society. WHO is leading efforts to support regions and countries as they adapt the GVAP for implementation.

At the World Health Assembly in 2013, Member States reiterated their support for the GVAP and the proposed Framework for Monitoring, Evaluation and Accountability.

World Immunization Week
The last week of April each year is marked by WHO and partners as World Immunization Week. It aims to raise public awareness of how immunization saves lives, encouraging people everywhere to vaccinate themselves and their children against deadly diseases. In 2013, more than 180 countries, territories and areas marked the week with activities including vaccination campaigns, training workshops, round-table discussions and public information campaigns.