Inequalities in Childhood Immunization
What is global inequality in childhood immunization and why does it exist?
“Inequality” means being unequal (not equal). Inequality in childhood immunization (immunization is also called “vaccination” or “vaccines”) means that children around the world have unequal access to vaccines.
Let's take a look at what this means.
How many of you have been immunized to protect yourselves from horrible diseases like polio, tetanus, and measles? You might remember going to the clinic to get vaccines when you were younger, or lining up in school waiting to get a needle from the school nurse. Not fun, but these immunizations save you from getting all kinds of illnesses. In Canada, most children have access to vaccines. Sadly, this isn’t the case for all children all over the world.
Childhood vaccines save lives. Yet, millions of children all over the world are not getting the vaccines they need. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - a non-profit organization that helps save children's lives around the world - an estimated 1.5 million children die every year (that’s one child every 20 seconds or 4,320 children every day) from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines, such as tetanus, measles, pneumonia and rotavirus (a leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants). That means that in the time that it takes you to read this lesson, several children would have died from diseases that could have been prevented.
Why do millions of children worldwide not get vaccines? This is an extremely complicated issue, and there is no perfect way to understand it. A lot of it has to do with historical issues from the past, current political situations, and global economic policies. In this lesson, we will focus on simplified categories that UNICEF has used to explain the cause - but just remember that it is much more complicated than what we can cover in this lesson. These three simplified reasons are:
Lack of Funding (money) & Poverty: Many public health systems like vaccine clinics that are run by the government are underfunded (don’t have enough money). This means that there may not be enough vaccines, enough health workers trained to give vaccines, or enough places for children to get vaccines. This often affects children who are poor or live in remote regions (areas far outside of cities or towns) the most. When this happens, a “poverty-trap” can happen (you will learn about what a poverty trap is in lesson 3).
Vaccine Misinformation: Sometimes families are given no information or wrong information about immunization. As a result, they may not know when or why to get their children immunized, or they may have fears about vaccines that are not based on truth.
War and Violence: When countries are at war, health care systems are damaged. As a result, there are often fewer or no vaccines available, fewer or no trained health workers to give vaccines, and fewer or no places for children to get vaccines. War also makes it unsafe and harder for health workers to reach children with vaccines.
In the next three lessons, you will learn more about these three main reasons why millions of children don’t get vaccines.
Although not specifically about immunization, watch this UNICEF video to learn how global inequality can affect children:
In the next lesson you will watch another UNICEF video and learn about how global inequality affects two mothers trying to get their children immunized.