The World Health Organization are calling for renewed collective efforts to get progress on global vaccination targets back on track. Around the world, 1 in 5 children are not receiving routine vaccines that could avert 1.5 million deaths a year from preventable diseases, say the UN public health agency.

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Only one of the six global vaccination targets for 2015 is on track.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general for family, women's and children's health, says World Immunization Week (24th-30th April, 2015) is an opportunity for the world to focus on and push harder toward the goal of ensuring every child, "whoever they are and wherever they live," receives life-saving vaccination.

"It is critical that the global community now makes a collective and cohesive effort to put progress towards our six targets back on track," she urges.

At the 65th World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2012, 194 countries endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) - a roadmap to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 - through "more equitable access to vaccines for people in all communities."

At that meeting, member states also agreed to designate the last week of April as World Immunization Week.

However, a recent independent report on GVAP progress warns that vaccines are not being delivered fairly or reliably and that only one of the six targets for 2015 - the introduction of underutilized vaccines - is currently on track.

65 nations not reaching diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccination target

One of the at-risk targets for 2015 is to ensure that 90% of children receive the DTP3 vaccine to protect against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Currently, 65 of the 194 countries that signed up to the GVAP are not reaching the target.

In 2013, nearly 22 million babies did not receive the required three doses of DTP3. Many of these infants live in the world's poorest nations, note WHO.

While many countries are already vaccinating 4 out of 5 children with DTP3, one third are still struggling to reach the "5th child," resulting in millions remaining at risk of illness, disability or death.

In May this year, WHO are meeting with 34 countries whose DTP3 coverage is currently under 80% to discuss barriers to progress and how to overcome them.

Measles, polio, tetanus and rubella vaccination targets also at risk

Another of the at-risk GVAP targets is to eliminate measles from three WHO regions by the end of 2015. WHO say currently 16% of children are not being immunized against measles and that in the past year, many countries have experienced large measles outbreaks and this has threatened efforts to close this gap.

The GVAP outlines three steps for closing the immunization gap:

  1. Integrate immunization into other health services, such as postnatal care
  2. Strengthen health systems so vaccines can still be given in times of crisis
  3. Ensure everyone can access and afford vaccines.

Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Belé, director for immunization, vaccines and biologicals at WHO, says:

"There is no one centralized approach that can ensure vaccines are delivered and administered to each child."

He says plans on the ground need to adapt not just to countries but also districts and communities.

In their statement, WHO list several ways operational needs can adapt on the ground, including: simplify vaccination procedures in the field, improve delivery to reach children living in remote areas, strengthen supply chains and improve quality of data collection and surveillance.

The other three 2015 GVAP targets that are off-track concern the elimination of polio, maternal and newborn tetanus, and rubella.

Meanwhile, in another statement published recently, WHO leaders admitted to faults in the agency's handling of the Ebola outbreak that began in 2013. They listed eight valuable lessons from the Ebola crisis, including the fact that health gains "are all too easily reversed when built on fragile health systems."