Friday, April 24, is the first day of World Immunization Week, an annual global effort to promote the importance of preventing disease—and saving lives—by improving vaccination rates. Always an important message, it is especially compelling this year as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same is true for this year’s World Immunization Week theme, #VaccinesWork for All. At a time of heightened interest in clinical research and vaccine development, it is critical that we make sure new medicines and vaccines work for—and are readily available to—all people, no matter who they are or where they live.

Disparities in vaccination rates

News on global vaccination rates is mixed. On the one hand, the World Health Organization reports that most children receive lifesaving vaccines, and the resulting immunization prevents 2 million to 3 million deaths every year. On the other hand, about 19.4 million children under 1 year of age worldwide did not receive basic vaccines.

Vaccination rates for children and adults vary by country, and disparities exist even in more developed countries. In the U.S., for example, flu and pneumococcal vaccination coverage among older adults is highest for non-poor whites.

According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for U.S. adults ages 65 and older:

  • 71.4% of white Americans received a flu vaccine, compared with 65.9% of Asian Americans, 59.6% of black Americans and 56.8% of Hispanic Americans.
  • 71.7% of not-poor Americans received a flu vaccine, compared with 63.0% of near-poor and 61.6% of poor Americans.
  • 68.1% of white Americans received a pneumococcal vaccine, compared with 50.2% of black Americans, 49.0% of Asian Americans, and 41.7% of Hispanic Americans.
  • 66.0% of not-poor Americans received a pneumococcal vaccine, compared with 61.7% of near-poor and 48.7% of poor Americans.

Seizing the opportunity

World Immunization Week presents an excellent opportunity for Clinical Research Pathways and other organizations to call attention to these disparities and the critical need to address them through equitable delivery of existing and future vaccines.

News reports remind us almost daily that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on lower-income minority communities, where it is difficult to access quality health care and preventive services. We cannot allow that to continue.

If and when an effective COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it must be provided to all people, in all communities, to help prevent both the spread of the disease and future health disparities.