Vaccines in Developing Countries

Written by Rachel Nall | Published on November 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 24, 2014

What Is the Current State of Vaccines in Developing Countries?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the only intervention that saves more from infectious disease than vaccines is access to clean water. Vaccinations can prevent disease. They have made diseases such as polio and smallpox all but gone in the United States.

While childhood immunizations are widely available in the United States, children in developing countries don’t have the same access to vaccines and medicines. This can result in greater numbers of illness and even death. According to Medicines Save Frontiers, vaccines save an estimated 2.5 million children from death each year.

Low-income countries face unique diseases and barriers to access compared to developed countries. Fortunately, efforts are increasing to boost the numbers of vaccinated people.  

What Are the Barriers to Vaccine Access?

A number of financial and geographical barriers keep people in developed countries from getting vaccines. These include the following.

Delivery

The vaccine’s route is not adapted for developing countries. Also, some developing countries may not have strong health systems. This can affect how well health providers are able to give the vaccines.

Expense

New vaccines are typically highly expensive and prices are going up. According to the journal PLOS, the average cost for the basic vaccine package has increased from $1.37 in 2001 to $38 in 2011. The 2011 vaccine package does protect against five more diseases. However, developing countries must often secure aid packages.

Geography

Some developing countries have many remote locations that make getting the vaccine to people that need it hard. To effectively prevent against a disease, healthcare workers must vaccinate a large number of people. According to WHO, roughly 95 percent of a population must be immunized to wipe out some diseases.

Research

Pharmaceutical companies may be less likely to develop vaccines for diseases affecting only developing countries that may not have the funds to complete highly expensive research.

Regulation for research is another problem. For example, parasitic infections are a significant concern in many developing countries. These infections aren’t as common in the United States and Europe. People in developed countries wouldn’t need the vaccines. If a pharmaceutical company created a vaccine, the company wouldn’t have the regulatory oversight as in larger countries. Most companies have to have larger sample sizes to test a vaccine’s safety. Without regulatory support, this testing is even pricier and takes longer.   

What Vaccines Are Currently Widely Available?

Vaccines for several medical conditions are currently more widely available than others, thanks to efforts from WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI). These organizations provide a large portion of the funding and distribution for immunizations. The “basic six” vaccines available in most developing countries include:

  • BCG, which helps to prevent tuberculosis
  • diptheria
  • measles
  • pertussis
  • polio
  • tetanus

But, according to PLOS, an estimated 22 million children didn’t receive these basic immunizations in 2011.

Vaccines available in some developing countries, but not as common as the earlier six include:

  • hepatitis B
  • haemophilus influenza type B
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • yellow fever

Newer vaccines are often not as available in developing countries. These vaccines include rotavirus, pneumococcal conjugate, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cost is often a barrier to bringing these vaccines to low-income countries. Because the vaccines haven’t been around as long, companies haven’t found a cheaper method to make them.

How Many People Are Immunized?

According to WHO, health workers immunized record numbers of infants annually. In 2008, workers immunized 106 million children.

What Initiatives Are Ahead?

Companies are getting the funding to research vaccines for developing countries by forming product development partnerships (PDP). These PDPs are researching vaccines for diseases with developing countries in mind.

One example is the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI). This wide network of universities, military, private foundations, and pharmaceutical companies are conducting tests in African countries.

The Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) is another PDP. Meningitis is a significant problem in sub-Saharan Africa. This project’s emphasis is on producing an affordable vaccine companies could easily make. 

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