Kate O’Brien’s year-end reflections: We need collective creativity and dogged determination

This is a big week for vaccines and immunization with two high-level meetings that will shape how we accelerate progress toward defeating vaccine-preventable diseases in the coming years. In Nairobi, the World Health Organization is bringing together its leadership from all regions and headquarters to expand its impact on health and well-being in all countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 3, provide the high-level architecture for prioritizing strategies and approaches. Vaccines and immunization are the primary intervention on which the SDG health agenda will rest, and to the aspiration for Universal Health Care, the overarching strategic goal for WHO.

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is hosting its Mid-Term Review event, an opportunity to assess progress during the current 5-year strategic period and discuss remaining challenges.

Unique among health interventions, every country around the world has an immunization program that in aggregate has the highest coverage of any health strategy at our disposal. Immunization programs are widely understood as the driving force and foundation for building both primary care and universal health care systems for all.

The challenges ahead are serious, substantial, and stubborn. These include increasing numbers of people living in humanitarian emergencies, massive increases in the urban poor, and the impact of climate change.

It will take our collective creativity and dogged determination to meet these challenges head-on. However, a look at what we have done together in the recent past should signal that these challenges will be met with determination and impact. Since its founding in 2000, Gavi has worked through its partner model to immunize 700 million children and to save 10 million lives. See this 24-page report on Gavi’s progress in delivering on its four main Investment Opportunity commitments.

Beginning in January, I will continue to work alongside you to address immunization challenges but in a new role as Director of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals at the World Health Organization in Geneva. I’m excited to jump into this role—aiming to strengthen WHO’s technical, strategic, and convening leadership toward ever greater health impact for families and communities in countries around the world.

IVAC’s Deputy Director, Dr. William Moss, will assume leadership of the International Vaccine Access Center. A Professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, International Health, and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Bill is a pediatrician with subspecialty training in infectious diseases and extensive field experience working in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and India, among other countries.

Bill has demonstrated strong leadership, previously serving as Deputy Chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology and Director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology track. He currently serves as a member of WHO working groups—including one on measles and rubella, for the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, and one on measles and rubella microarray patches. He is committed to continuing IVAC’s work across the evidence, policy, and access continuum—and applying this strong framework to address key challenges posed by the shifting vaccine environment, from continuing challenges in achieving high coverage with current vaccines to the introduction and scale-up of new vaccines and delivery platforms.

This is a very exciting and dynamic time for vaccines and immunizations with many opportunities ahead, and some key challenges we will rise to meet. I feel proud that IVAC and our close colleagues throughout the Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative will remain at the cutting edge, providing evidence, shaping policy, and guiding implementation.

For our friends and colleagues in governments and research institutions of 38 countries IVAC currently works in—I look forward to visiting you in your countries and to seeing many of you in Geneva or at gatherings around the world. Together we are sure to forge a bright path toward a world free of the health, social, and economic consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases.

With great optimism and hope for that future,