Bill Gates today warns parents of the ‘heartbreak’ that follows failing to vaccinate children as he throws his support behind the Daily Mail’s campaign.
The billionaire Microsoft founder says people have forgotten the death and devastation wreaked by diseases such as measles, polio and pneumonia.
Writing in today’s Mail, he describes the heart-wrenching experience of watching a child become severely ill as their body is ravaged by measles.
He refers to the ‘tragic irony’ that vaccination rates have soared in developing countries while plummeting in wealthy nations.
The billionaire Microsoft founder (pictured in Nigeria) says people have forgotten the death and devastation wreaked by diseases such as measles, polio and pneumonia
‘I can’t imagine seeing us win that fight in one part of the world, only to see us start losing it in another,’ he adds.
The Mail launched its Give Children Their Jabs campaign last month after a Government report revealed uptake had fallen for all ten routine childhood vaccinations.
Health officials are particularly worried about MMR vaccination rates, which have slipped to their lowest level for seven years.
Mr Gates said: ‘Like others involved in the Mail’s campaign, I am concerned about the decline in Britain’s immunisation rates.’
The 64-year-old has spent years championing the importance of vaccinations through the Bill & Melinda Gates (pictured together in Mozambique in 2003) Foundation, which is devoted to improving health in developing countries
The 64-year-old has spent years championing the importance of vaccinations through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is devoted to improving health in developing countries.
Mr Gates, the second-richest person in the world with a net worth of around £83billion, has donated billions of pounds to Gavi – an organisation which buys vaccines for children in poor countries.
He is the latest influential health leader to back the Daily Mail’s campaign to vaccinate every child.
Others include Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Simon Stevens, head of NHS England.
Mr Gates (pictured with his wife Melinda in India in 2011), the second-richest person in the world with a net worth of around £83billion, has donated billions of pounds to Gavi – an organisation which buys vaccines for children in poor countries
The Mail is calling on the Government to launch a mass awareness drive to reassure parents that jabs are both safe and essential.
We also want the NHS to introduce reminders via text message to alert busy families of upcoming vaccinations.
Figures from NHS Digital show that only 86 per cent of five-year-olds received both doses of the MMR jab in 2018/19.
This is well below the World Health Organisation’s target of 95 per cent coverage that is needed to preserve herd immunity.
Six children are admitted to hospital with pneumonia every hour amid soaring rates of the vaccine-preventable disease, NHS figures show.
Emergency admissions have risen more than 50 per cent over the past decade, with 56,000 children taken to hospital with the condition last year.
NHS Digital data shows uptake rates for the pneumonia vaccine have plummeted.
Last year 92.8 per cent of children received jabs, down from 94.4 per cent in 2012/13.
Analysis from Save the Children and Unicef revealed that 27 children in England were killed by the disease last year.
Bill Gates: It’s a tragic irony that mothers in poor countries walk miles for the vaccines too many in the West shun
My wife, Melinda, and I know first-hand the power that a great article or newspaper campaign can have.
One morning 22 years ago we read a story about how each year half a million children in poor countries were being killed by a disease called rotavirus.
The disease, we learned, kills children by giving them diarrhoea, which saps them of water and nutrients. They die of dehydration.
Melinda had just given birth to our first child a year before we read that story. If our daughter had been born in a different country, we realised, she could’ve died from something as basic as diarrhoea. The idea shocked us.
My wife, Melinda, and I know first-hand the power that a great article or newspaper campaign can have. Pictured In Sokoto state, Nigeria
Melinda and I assumed that if there was some way to prevent rotavirus then the world would already be doing it, but we were wrong. A vaccine for rotavirus was scientifically possible in the late-1990s, but one was never tested or sold in the developing countries.
Melinda and I started wondering what other preventable diseases were still plaguing poor countries. We looked at illnesses like measles, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pneumonia and whooping cough. The vaccines for many of these illnesses had been around for years, but millions of children were dying because their parents couldn’t afford or access them.
Over the past two decades the world has begun to solve this problem. An organisation called Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance was created in 2000.
It raises funds to buy vaccines and then supports countries as they deliver them to people in need. Since 2000, more than 760million children have been immunised.
But there’s also some tragic irony in the recent history of world health. As vaccination rates have increased in poor countries, they’ve started to drop in wealthier ones, like the United Kingdom. Like others involved in the Mail’s campaign, I am concerned about the decline in Britain’s immunisation rates.
One morning 22 years ago we read a story about how each year half a million children in poor countries were being killed by a disease called rotavirus. Pictured: In Mozambique in 2003
Of course, there are a lot explanations for the decline. But an important one is probably complacency – many people have forgotten how devastating these diseases can be.
In poor countries, mothers will sometimes walk miles with their small children to get to a health clinic that can administer a vaccine. They go through that effort because they know what can happen if they don’t. They’ve seen what it looks like when a child contracts measles, or rotavirus, or whooping cough, and they remember. But in rich countries like the United Kingdom or the United States, we don’t. These diseases have been rare for most of our lives.
Take measles, for example. Thanks to widespread immunisation, many of our doctors have never seen a single case, and most people without medical training don’t know what the disease can do to a child’s body.
Melinda and I have seen what can happen when children get measles. Let me tell you what it looks like.
A rash breaks out on their faces and spreads across their whole body in tight, itchy clusters. They often develop a cough, red and watery eyes, a runny nose, and a fever that can go as high as 41C. Children under five are most likely to die from measles. But before they do, they cough and sneeze – spreading the disease.
Anyone nearby can catch the measles just by breathing in the infected air or by placing their hand on an infected surface and then touching their nose, mouth or eyes. Many children do recover from measles, but up to 30 per cent have complications.
Research from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK indicates that measles can lead to ‘immune amnesia’.
The disease destroys the existing defences that the body has built up against other illnesses and exposes children to the risk of new infections – sometimes lethal ones. Children with measles are more likely to catch pneumonia or encephalitis. The latter can leave a child blind, deaf or brain-damaged.
Once you have measles, there is no cure. But a vaccine can prevent it. That’s why I welcome this newspaper’s effort to raise awareness on the importance of childhood vaccination.
If immunisation rates in countries like the UK decline, communities that have forgotten about these diseases could learn about them again. But not in the newspaper, like Melinda and I did two decades ago. They will learn about them in a heartbreaking way – first-hand, watching children fall ill.
This is a fate that millions of health workers, researchers, government officials, and – most of all – parents, have tried to spare children in the developing world. It’s been the fight of a generation.
And I can’t imagine seeing us win that fight in one part of the world, only to see us start losing it in another.