By Joel Spicer, President and CEO
Vaccines are one of public health’s superheroes, protecting millions around the world from illness and disease. One of the lesser known life-saving superheroes in public health is vitamin A. As we celebrate World Immunization Week (April 24 to 30) let’s celebrate how vitamin A and immunization are working together to save lives and protect child health.
Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) is a key child survival intervention, critical to reducing preventable deaths of children under five years of age. In populations where vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public health problem, VAS of children strengthens immunity and helps protect against blindness and death. Much like routine immunizations, VAS every six months, from six months of age until the child is five years old is a high-impact preventive public health strategy to protect children from the morbidity and mortality caused by childhood illnesses such as diarrhea, malaria and measles.
A fully immunized child is one who has received all of the WHO-recommended childhood vaccines by the age of 12 months; but in populations of high under-five mortality and VAD, VAS and immunization go hand in hand, so much so that a child is only considered fully protected when they also receive all of the recommended VAS doses every year up to the age of five. Furthermore, because the same children need both immunizations and VAS, they are often co-delivered through routine Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) contact points in the health system, or campaigns such as polio National Immunization Days (NIDs).
With outbreaks of measles on the rise globally, VAS is critically important. Not only will regular doses strengthen a child’s overall immunity, making them less vulnerable to contracting measles, but high-dose VAS is a critical part of the WHO recommended protocol for the treatment of a child already diagnosed with measles, reducing the chances of complications and mortality due to the disease by up to 50 percent. We are seeing this at work on the ground in Madagascar which, as result of both limited vaccine availability and high levels of childhood malnutrition, is currently experiencing one of the largest measles outbreaks in recent history. Global cases of measles have quadrupled within the first three months of 2019, as compared to last year, with Africa experiencing a 700% increase in cases. The World Health Organization is recommending that VAS be delivered to all children diagnosed with measles to help manage individual cases and reduce the spread of the outbreak.
As the provider of 75% of the world’s supply of vitamin A, Nutrition International will continue to work directly with Ministries of Health to integrate VAS into routine healthcare systems for delivery to children at risk. Good nutrition is essential for building a strong immune system, and a strong immune response is essential for vaccines to be effective. Together with other organizations around the world, we are committed to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to survive, thrive, and meet their full potential.
Learn more about Nutrition International’s vitamin A program.