Editorial: World vaccine drive saves 6 million lives

Published Dec. 9, 2014

It attracted little attention in Washington, but its impact worldwide would be significant. With support from Sen. Marco Rubio, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week passed a bipartisan resolution supporting the nation's continued financial commitment to providing vaccines and immunizing children in the world's poorest countries. Congress should approve this resolution before it adjourns this month, building momentum for the Obama administration to make a substantial new pledge to the effort in January.

With the race to develop a vaccine to combat the deadly Ebola virus grabbing headlines, it is important to remember the continuing efforts to immunize children against more common deadly illnesses such as measles and meningitis. Immunization against such common illnesses is often taken for granted in the United States, but elsewhere in the world millions of children under the age of 5 die every year from diseases that are preventable by vaccines. The United States has a moral and financial obligation to take part in international efforts to reduce these preventable deaths and give those children the same opportunity to live as those in more affluent countries.

This is one of those smart investments in a public-private partnership with a proven track record and tangible results. In 2000, the United States, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and other groups and nations created the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines — now known as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Through that alliance, public and private money is raised to immunize children in more than 65 developing nations that contribute some portion of the cost to help their own. That pooling of resources to meet demand has made vaccines more affordable and reliable, and more than 440 million children have been immunized since 2000. Estimated lives saved: 6 million.

Yet there is so much more to be accomplished. In January, Gavi will seek to raise $7.5 billion in pledges throughout the world to continue its fine work from 2016 through 2020. That would immunize another 300 million children against potentially fatal diseases. The United States is being asked to pledge $1 billion over those four years, and with strong congressional support for Gavi the Obama administration should make the pledge.

The Senate is prepared to vote on its resolution, and the bipartisan House resolution has at least eight co-sponsors from Florida, including Democrat Kathy Castor from Tampa and Republican Dennis Ross from Lakeland. Congress should approve the resolution, and the United States should continue to be a leader in a public-private partnership that works. It is in our national security interest to help children in poor countries avoid deadly diseases, stay healthy and grow up to lead productive lives that will make their nations more self-reliant and secure in the long run.