Mapping the value of vaccines

Telethon Kids Institute researchers have helped map the global impact of life-saving vaccines to mark the 50-year anniversary of the Expanded Program on Immunisation.

The findings show that since 1974, vaccination has saved about 154 million lives – most of these children under the age of five – arguably the greatest contribution of any health intervention to mortality reduction and years of full health gained. 

The study, funded by the World Health Organization, was led by Associate Professor Andrew Shattock from the Intervention and Infectious Diseases Modelling Team at Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia, with contributions from researchers from around the globe. 

“As a result of 50 years of vaccination, a child born today has a 40% increase in survival for each year of infancy and childhood, varying from 21% in the Western Pacific region to 52% in the African region,” Professor Shattock said.  

“The survival benefits of infant vaccination extend to beyond 50 years of age, a remarkable finding considering the exclusion of smallpox and the exclusion of the anticipated benefits of human papillomavirus (HPV), influenza, SARS-CoV-2, Ebola, mpox and other vaccines affecting adult mortality.” 

The EPI was an initiative established by the World Health Assembly in 1974 with the goal to vaccinate all children against smallpox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and measles by 1990, before being expanded to include other diseases. 

Researchers at TKI used a suite of mathematical and statistical modelling to map the global impact of the program, targeting 14 pathogens, with significant findings. 

“We estimate that the EPI has provided the single greatest contribution to infant survival over the past 50 years,” Professor Shattock said. 

“The collaborative efforts of countries around the world to implement the EPI has averted approximately 154 million deaths – significantly, that includes around 146 million children under the age of five, among whom 101 million were infants younger than one. 

“The study found that for every death averted, 66 years of full health were gained on average. We also discovered that measles vaccination accounted for 60% of the total benefit of vaccination over the 50-year period, which was the greatest driver of lives saved.” 

In terms of absolute impact, the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions saw the largest vaccine-induced gains in life course survival probability, with Europe seeing the lowest. 

The researchers estimated that in 2024, children aged 10 years are about 44% more likely to survive to their next birthday than if no vaccinations had occurred since 1974, while people aged 25 years are 35% more likely, and those aged 50 years are 16% more likely. 

Additional vaccines such as HPV and malaria were likely to increase further the life-saving impact of immunisation programs.