In celebration of world immunization week, one cannot ignore the great strides China has made to protect over one-fifth of the world’s population from vaccine preventable diseases. The Chinese government has worked closely with CDC, WHO, UNICEF and other partners as it has addressed this challenge head on with new policies, supplemental immunization activities and successes reaching those most in need of care. These steps protect not only China’s population from disease, but also protect the U.S. and the rest of the world from the global spread of infectious, vaccine-preventable health threats.
Let’s take measles as an example. Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die. Prior to use of the measles vaccine, most all Chinese children would contract measles, with tens of thousands of deaths per year.
Fortunately, China took on the challenge to eliminate measles by 2012. Less than five years ago China reported around 100,000 measles cases each year which contributed to more than 90% of the cases in the Western Pacific Region of WHO.
In contrast, today measles incidence has dropped to the lowest point ever reported. However, challenges still remain in order to eliminate the disease. CDC and other public health partners are providing technical assistance as China targets hard-to-reach migrant populations, vaccinates adults and addresses infant immunization gaps. In turn, CDC has learned a great deal from China’s experience that can inform our work globally.
I compare the September 2010 nationwide measles immunization campaign when a total 102 million children were vaccinated to my experience working in immunization here for the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila (WPRO) in the early 2000s. The Chinese Ministry of Health had already worked with CDC, WHO, and UNICEF for four years to develop high quality measles surveillance in Anhui, Henan and Shandong provinces when it was decided to implement a comprehensive measles immunization strategy including strengthened routine immunizations and supplemental immunizations campaigns in Guizhou, a province with the poorest measles control. After four years of work, Guizhou had the lowest reported rate of measles and measles deaths in China. This demonstrated to the skeptical what was possible, and led directly to the success of the national measles elimination work. In China, it is possible to achieve control of vaccine preventable diseases at the highest level. I’m proud to have been a part of these critical efforts.
World Immunization Week is a time to reflect on the world of difference that vaccines make and have made in such a relatively short time with so very many lives. China is an outstanding example of the change that can occur in a life time or even a decade when the full potential of vaccines is realized… a world of difference among 20% of the world’s population.