• Vaccines have helped to eradicate major diseases in the US, this Statista chart shows.
  • Diseases like smallpox and polio saw no recorded cases in the US in 2020.
  • But progress in eradicating other diseases has slowed, partially due to vaccine scepticism.

The last week of April marks World Immunization Week, celebrated by the World Health Organization to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases. 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 2020, there were no reported cases of small pox and paralytic polio for example, compared to an annual average of 29,005 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, rubella and diphtheria.

Graph showing annual 20th century morbidity and 2020 morbidity for vaccine-preventable diseases in the US.
No cases of smallpox or polio were reported in 2020 in the US.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Vaccines, Health and healthcare, Gavi

What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

In 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was launched at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, with an initial pledge of $750 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The aim of Gavi is to make vaccines more accessible and affordable for all - wherever people live in the world.

Along with saving an estimated 10 million lives worldwide in less than 20 years,through the vaccination of nearly 700 million children, - Gavi has most recently ensured a life-saving vaccine for Ebola.

At Davos 2016, we announced Gavi's partnership with Merck to make the life-saving Ebola vaccine a reality.

The Ebola vaccine is the result of years of energy and commitment from Merck; the generosity of Canada’s federal government; leadership by WHO; strong support to test the vaccine from both NGOs such as MSF and the countries affected by the West Africa outbreak; and the rapid response and dedication of the DRC Minister of Health. Without these efforts, it is unlikely this vaccine would be available for several years, if at all.

Read more about the Vaccine Alliance, and how you can contribute to the improvement of access to vaccines globally - in our Impact Story.