It all began in the early 1970s, when vaccines for 20 diseases became available to high-risk population groups. Over the years, vaccines have become used for mass campaigns on a global scale, with national immunization programmes protecting millions of children from disease and death. Throughout the past 40 years, however, the question of cost and the economics of immunization has arisen. Is it cost-effective? Who is paying for it?
These questions are becoming more relevant as new vaccines become available, new funding sources are being identified and new goals are being designed.
Here are a few points I found of interest in the WHO's state of the world's vaccines and immunization report
In the 1980s- total annual expenditure on immunization in developing countries averaged out at an estimated US$ 3.50-5.00 per live birth.
Beyond 2010, scaling up vaccine coverage with new vaccines – such as pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines – to meet the MDGs and the GIVS goals is likely to raise the cost above US$ 30.00 per live birth.
Is the investment worth making? Data says yes.
Global eradication of smallpox, which cost US$ 100 million over a 10-year period up to 1977, has resulted in savings of US$ 1.3 billion a year in treatment and prevention costs ever since.
If all countries immunize 90% of children under ï¬ve years of age with these vaccines, it is estimated that immunization could prevent an additional two million deaths a year in this age group.
Who pays the bill and how?
From the WHO-UNICEF costing analysis, it is estimated that 40% of the costs of immunization for the period 2006-2015 will be met by national governments
The GAVI Alliance is a public-private global health partnership that provides support to countries with a GNI per capita below US$ 1000. The Alliance had received a total of US$ 3.8 billion in cash and pledges from public and private sector donors, and disbursed US$ 2.7 billion to eligible countries.
A new, innovative source of funding is the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which uses long-term legally binding commitments by donors to issue bonds on the international capital markets. As of early 2008, the bonds had raised US$ 1.2 billion from investors worldwide.
"The real challenge," the WHOUNICEF 2008 analysis report concluded, "will hinge on how national governments, and the international community at large manage their roles and responsibilities in reaching and ï¬nancing the goals of the GIVS until 2015."
What do you think? Do the costs outweigh the benefits? Comment below.