Economic Benefit Of Vaccines Highlighted In 2017 Bill & Melinda Gates Annual Letter

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Bill Gates and Melinda Gates released their annual letter on February 14, 2017, and this year’s letter highlights the couple’s optimism about progress in global health. The letter, written in the form of a response to a query from Warren Buffet about the effectiveness of his investment in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ten years ago, explains that 122 million children’s lives have been saved since 1990, through sustained reduction in childhood deaths. (1990 is typically the baseline year considered for measuring recent progress to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which were health and other goals for achievement by 2015.)

Saving children’s lives is the overarching goal of the Gates Foundation’s health work, and the drop in childhood deaths is falling faster than expected.

The most important factor in reducing childhood deaths, the Gates’ letter emphasizes, is increasing global vaccination rates. That makes vaccines a great investment. Vaccination rates are the highest they’ve ever been. Bill Gates notes that “for every dollar spent on childhood immunizations, you get $44 in economic benefits.” And “that includes saving the money that families lose when a child is sick and a parent can’t work,” he explained.

That figure on the economic benefits of vaccines is based on research, by Sachiko Ozawa and colleagues, on the global return on investment in vaccines. The research was published in the February 2016 issue of Health Affairs.  Authors estimated the return on investment for immunization programs to prevent diseases caused by ten antigens, with effects of routine and supplementary immunization activities examined together to assess the impact of entire national immunization programs.

Here’s a key graphic from that article showing that the benefits of immunization exceed investment costs in ninety-four countries.


Lead author Ozawa was then with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (She has since moved to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.) To read the study’s abstract, click here.

The full Datagraphic is here.

The Ozawa article was part of the February 2016 issue of Health Affairs, a thematic issue on vaccines, which was designed to examine progress and challenges at the mid-point of the Decade of Vaccines, a global effort to expand access to immunization in low- and middle-income countries.

In addition to the Ozawa article, the issue featured research on the economics of vaccines, sustainable financing for vaccines, strengthening immunization programs, vaccine effectiveness, eliminating measles and rubella, and attitudes toward vaccination.

Also, in that issue, Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil interviewed Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the global program that has been working to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases around the world, about achievements and remaining challenges in ensuring that all kids have access to vaccines. While most of the issue focused on global health, there were also articles on children’s vaccination in the United States.

The Gates Annual Letter also discusses the Gates Foundation’s aim to derive lessons from research and practice to reduce newborn mortality, end malnutrition, increase access to family planning, and achieve the goals of “getting to zero” in eradicating polio and eliminating other diseases. The letter also conveys optimism on the possibility of ending poverty and explains the need to address poverty together with gender inequities, because women with the same opportunities as men will help societies thrive. You can read the letter here.

Related reading:

“The Gates Foundation Makes ‘A Big Bet For The Future’ Of Health And Development In Low-Income Countries,” by Margaret K. Saunders, GrantWatch section, Health Affairs Blog, March 2, 2015.

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