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What Were the Biggest Vaccine Campaigns in History?

Most people likely think that working to getting everyone vaccinated and protected against COVID-19 has to be the most ambitious mass immunization campaign in history?

“Mass immunization is a term used in diverse ways in the medical literature. The most frequent use of the term, and the definition adopted here, is delivering immunizations to a large number of people at one or more locations in a short interval of time. A common understanding is that mass immunization campaigns involve more people passing through the immunization process than is the usual baseline rate.”

Mass immunization programs: principles and standards

Are they right?

What Were the Biggest Vaccine Campaigns in History?

Well, let’s take a look at some other mass immunization campaigns in history.

Yearly flu vaccination campaigns benefit from the fact that flu shots are relatively easy to store and most folks who get vaccinated don’t need to be observed for 15 to 30 minutes.

Among the biggest and most massive vaccine campaigns in history (that I have so far been able to find…) have been the:

  1. Global Polio Eradication Initiative – as we work towards eradication, understand that in just the past ten years, more than 10 billion doses of polio vaccine have been given to nearly three billion children worldwide.
  2. yearly seasonal flu campaigns – in the last few years, over 170 million Americans of all ages have been getting vaccinated between about September and March or April – each year
  3. meningococcal A conjugate vaccine campaign in Burkina Faso in 2010 – 11,117,555 children and young adults were vaccinated in 9 days
  4. 1994-95 diphtheria mass immunization program in the countries of the former Soviet Union – more than 140,000,000 adults and adolescents, and children were vaccinated to control a diphtheria epidemic
  5. mass administration of the meningococcal serogroup A vaccine in Brazil in 1973-74 – about 100 million doses of vaccine were distributed to control an meningococcal disease epidemic
  6. 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine campaign – low-yielding vaccine virus strain and new production line glitches led to delays and lowered goals, but in the end, more than 75 million Americans were vaccinated between October 2009 and February 2010
  7. 1976 Swine Flu Vaccination Program – 45 million people were vaccinated in 10 weeks
  8. 1947 smallpox campaign in New York City – 5 million people were vaccinated in about two months
  9. following a smallpox outbreak in 1963 – 2,176,947 people were vaccinated in the Wrocław province on Poland in two months
  10. Sabin polio vaccination campaigns – started in 1960 with Sabin Sundays, with millions of families lining up to get vaccinated and protected against polio
  11. Madagascar 2018-2019 measles outbreak response – 7,265,990 children aged from 6 months to 9 years were vaccinated in three round of measles mass campaigns in January, March and April 2019
  12. first national measles eradication campaign in 1967 – about 11.7 million doses of measles vaccine were distributed in the US over the next few years
  13. Salk polio vaccination campaign in 1955 – only 9 million shots were initially available
  14. initial rubella vaccination campaign – an estimated 80 million doses of live, attenuated rubella virus vaccines were distributed and given to children between age 1 to 14 years in the US between 1969 and 1977
  15. International Tuberculosis Campaign – nearly 30 million people underwent tuberculin testing and almost 14 million were given BCG (bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine between 1948 and 1951 in 23 countries
  16. mass administration of the meningococcal serogroup A vaccine to the entire population of Finland in 1973 – about 4 million people
  17. Polio Pioneers – was described as “the largest clinical trial in history,” involving 1.3 million children in elementary school, grades 1 to 3, in 1954.
  18. The Australian Measles Control Campaign of 1998 – 1.7 million doses of MMR vaccine administered during the campaign children aged 5–12 years
  19. 2003 mass customized smallpox immunization – 450,293 smallpox vaccinations given to US service members in just over 5 months
  20. Global Smallpox Eradication Program in 1967 – not really a mass vaccination program, instead, monitored for cases of smallpox and then sent out teams to vaccinate everyone in the area, with many teams vaccinating up to 500 people each day
  21. National Childhood Immunization Initiative in 1977 – increased childhood vaccination rates from 70% to over 90% in three years.
  22. National Childhood Immunization Initiative in 1993 – after the deadly measles outbreaks in the late 1980s, once again worked to increase childhood vaccination coverage levels towards 90%
  23. mass administration of tetanus vaccine to American military forces in 1941
  24. mass administration of typhoid vaccine to American military forces during WWI and WWII

So where does the COVID-19 vaccination campaign rank with these and other vaccine campaigns in history?

After a slow start for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, we are moving towards the goal of vaccinating one million people each day.
After a slow start for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, we are moving towards the goal of vaccinating one million people each day.

Well, the plan is to eventually get everyone vaccinated and protected, even those who have already been sick, so would indeed end up as the biggest vaccine campaign in history.

“The goal of the U.S. government is to have enough COVID-19 vaccine for all people in the United States who wish to be vaccinated.”

COVID-19 Vaccination Planning and Partnerships

But, the COVID-19 vaccination plan is being done in phases and might take years…

Contributing to problems with the rollout include a delay in funding for vaccine administration and that currently approved COVID-19 vaccines have to be stored in a freezer (or ultra cold freezer), that everyone needs two doses, and they must be observed for 15 to 30 minutes, all while maintaining social distancing.

Still, to reach our initial goals, we will need to start vaccinating over one million people each and every day in the United States, which is something we are working towards even as many countries haven’t gotten their first doses yet.

The most ambitious mass vaccination campaign in history would include the highest risk people in all countries, not just the ones who can readily pay for a vaccine.
The most ambitious mass vaccination campaign in history would include the highest risk people in all countries, not just the ones who can readily pay for a vaccine.

We will meet those challenges and get everyone vaccinated and protected though.

“…we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.

It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first.

But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at 148th session of the Executive Board

Hopefully putting a priority on those who are at the most risk all over the world, not just in developed countries, will help to truly make COVID-19 the most ambitious mass vaccination campaign in history.

More on Vaccine Campaigns in History

1 thought on “What Were the Biggest Vaccine Campaigns in History?”

  1. Pingback: COVID-19 Vaccination Goals - VAXOPEDIA

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