European Immunization Week in Tajikistan (22-27 April 2024) launches a year-long commemoration of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), a global initiative launched in 1974 to expand the benefits of essential WHO-recommended vaccines to all. The EPI has become one of the biggest public health successes of the 20th and 21st century, saving up to 5 million lives per year.


“The Expanded Programme on Immunization in Tajikistan has ensured broad access to vaccines, and has contributed to the impressive immunization coverage rates currently reported by the country. Each essential vaccine administered, serves to better protect the health of people, and their entire communities. This is a success worthy of celebration”, highlights Dr.Victor Olsavszky, WHO Representative in Tajikistan.


So, what accounts for such a dramatic success?

By 1974, the smallpox vaccine had nearly eradicated smallpox, by all accounts a miracle unburdening billions of people from the threat of a ravaging disease that killed one out of three of those infected. While several vaccines to prevent diseases beyond smallpox were available by 1974, most children in the world were not benefitting from them. Thus, the EPI was born  ̶  in a World Health Assembly resolution adopted by all WHO Member States  ̶  to provide all children access to vaccines against six deadly diseases beyond smallpox: polio, tuberculosis, pertussis, tetanus, measles and diphtheria. In the intervening years this package of essential recommended vaccines has increased to 13 universally recommended vaccines across the life course, and 17 additional vaccines with context-dependent recommendations.


Impact in the WHO European Region

In 1974, only 10% of children in the WHO European Region were being vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Today, that figure has increased to 94% and incidence of these diseases has dropped dramatically. As of the end of 2022, 33 countries out of 53 in the Region have eliminated endemic spread of measles. While polio was still common in several countries in 1974, the Region was declared polio-free in 2003.


National progress

Tajikistan has made remarkable strides in its vaccination efforts, marked by the introduction of three new vaccines into its immunization program over the past five years. This expansion demonstrates the country's commitment to safeguarding the health of its population against a broader range of preventable diseases. Furthermore, 97% of children receive the third dose of the DTP vaccine, protecting children at a young age from three potentially fatal bacterial diseases. These achievements have been made possible through concerted efforts from national authorities and key partners, including UNICEF. The progress made in Tajikistan towards ensuring widespread immunization coverage, fosters a healthier future for the Tajik population.


Looking ahead

The success of national vaccination programmes shows us what is humanly possible when people work together to improve collective well-being. At the same time, it highlights the tremendous gains that could be lost if we do not sustain high vaccination rates across the Region and the world.


European Immunization Agenda 2030

Safeguarding the health of people across the WHO European Region requires that WHO, health authorities, partners, health workers and civil society across the Region work together to protect the profound legacy of the Expanded Programme on Immunization. The European Immunization Agenda 2030 adopted by Member States of the WHO European Region builds on that legacy by focusing on equitable access to vaccines for all, life-course vaccination and partnerships. To ensure healthier and safer lives for current and future generations, it is imperative that vaccination remain a top priority in public health.