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22.4 million children remain incompletely vaccinated at 12 months of age 22.4 million children remain incompletely vaccinated at 12 months of age USAID

World Immunization Week, the Cold Chain, Energy and the Environment

It’s World Immunization Week, a week designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an opportunity to build awareness on the benefits and challenges of vaccination, celebrate progress in vaccination coverage and take a close look at the road ahead – including environmental impacts and the role of clean energy.

Vaccination is an indispensable tool in fighting diseases like influenza, hepatitis, polio and rotaviruses.  So integral has vaccination become to public health that the list of WHO-recommended vaccines has doubled from 6 to 12 since 2000.  This expansion has clear public health benefits – the organization estimates that 2 to 3 million deaths are averted each year due to vaccinations – but also places major strains on the technical and managerial capacity of national health systems to efficiently procure, store and deliver those vaccines.

Nevertheless, the WHO has made increased vaccination coverage a priority, and has laid out a framework to overcoming obstacles to that goal, the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), which focuses on government initiative, public awareness, supply chain efficiency and technological innovation.

The GVAP is a multi-faceted, cross-discipline public health initiative on a global scale, thus there are a number efforts related to its implementation.  From a technical standpoint, the vaccine supply chain is perhaps the most challenging of these efforts.  Manufacturing, logistical networks, information and communications systems and cold chain capacity are central to an efficient supply chain, and all are enabled by energy supply and IT infrastructure.

In order to design a more robust and efficient vaccine supply chain, the WHO has identified five priorities for future development:

  1. Products and packaging – vaccines that endure imperfect conditions
  2. Vaccine supply system efficiency – transport optimization and public sector integration
  3. Environmental impacts – minimizing energy demand and waste
  4. Immunization information systems – tracking vaccine use and supply
  5. Human resources – competent and empowered personnel at all levels

Advancing these priorities is particularly challenging in remote and resource-poor hospitals and clinics, where access to energy and communications is limited.  This obstacle, however, is also an opportunity to take advantage of energy efficient and clean energy technologies.

For example, the WHO has cited a solar-diesel hybrid energy system used in Boucan Carre, Haiti as a model for how to lower the environmental impact of the vaccine cold chain.  The WHO is also expanding its range of pre-qualified solar cold chain refrigerators to those that run directly on solar energy, without the need for batteries.

USAID’s Improving Health Facility Infrastructure (IHFI) project is employing clean energy to improve the cold chain in rural Guyana.  IHFI has installed solar PV systems with battery storage at 7 remote clinics in Guyana.  These systems provide continuous power to lighting and microscopes, as well as critical cold chain refrigerators.

IHFI is also committed to human resource development – training energy technicians, hospital staff and administrative officials on energy management and equipment maintenance.  IHFI provides hands-on training, maintenance tools and reference materials, such as log books and manuals, in order to ensure that hospital energy systems run smoothly to support essential healthcare services.

The potential to save lives through vaccination is so significant that the WHO and its 194 member states have recognized that expanding the number and coverage of vaccines is a matter of global equality and human rights.  Achieving that goal will require empowered individuals and innovative technologies, especially in building a more reliable, more extensive cold chain.

Find more information on World Immunization Week and the Global Vaccine Action Plan.

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