As the World Health Summit kicked off in Berlin, Germany on Sunday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will commit $1.2 billion to help efforts to eradicate polio worldwide. The pledge will support the GPEI's Polio Eradication Stragegy 2022-2026, which aims to end wild poliovirus in the last two endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the GPEI's foundation in 1988, global incidence of polio has decreased by 99.9 percent thanks to widespread immunization of young children.
That progress has come under threat amid the Covid-19 pandemic, however, as "pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases", the World Health Organization warned earlier this year. Vaccines have been around for a long time and the first one is generally credited to Edward Jenner, an English doctor who injected pus from a cowpox pustule into an incision on an eight-year old's arm on May 14, 1796. The boy then proved immune to smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases at that time.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows just how effective vaccines have been in all but eradicating major diseases in the United States. In 2021, there were no reported cases of small pox, diphteria and paralytic polio for example, compared to an annual average of 29,005 cases, 21,053 cases and 16,316 cases in the 20th century, respectively. And even though progress in eradicating measles has stalled in recent years (due in part to growing vaccine skepticism), its morbidity is nowhere near the annual case load seen in the 20th century, when half a million people were infected in an average year. Its prevalence has fallen by more than 99 percent due to vaccinations, along with a whole host of other diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), mumps and rubella.