Since the first successful use of vaccinations in 1796, vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of lives. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years alone. And the World Health Organization calculates that immunization currently averts about two to three million deaths every year.
A new study published in the journal Health Affairs finds that along with preventing diseases, vaccines prevent many people around the globe from falling into extreme poverty. According to the study, over the next 15 years global vaccinations will keep 24 million people out of extreme poverty:
Macroeconomic development is not the only way to address extreme poverty. International agencies and policy makers have long recognized that high out-of-pocket health expenditures were one of the main reasons for household impoverishment. In China and India, for example, out-of-pocket spending for health services was a primary factor driving families into poverty. In 2010 the World Health Organization reported that the cost of health care prevents many poor people from seeking treatment while simultaneously pushing about 150 million care seekers into poverty each year. Reducing out-of-pocket spending for health care and providing financial risk protection is critical to preventing extreme poverty.
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It is well recognized that vaccines have contributed significantly to the improvement of population health in the past few decades, but their nonhealth impact has been less explored. Given the preventive nature of vaccines, they may play a role in providing financial risk protection by preventing illnesses and its high-cost treatments, and therefore averting medical impoverishment. Similarly, while poor health is strongly associated with poverty, and the World Health Organization’s Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011–2020 listed equity as one of its six guiding principles, limited evidence assessing the distribution of health benefits of vaccines by socioeconomic strata exists.