National Partnership Agreement for Essential Vaccines: A Step Forward in Public Health
Vaccines have been one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine in preventing and controlling infectious diseases. They have saved countless lives and have been instrumental in eradicating smallpox and drastically reducing the incidence of other diseases like polio, measles, and rubella. However, their effectiveness depends on their accessibility and availability, which is not always the case for everyone, especially in low-income countries. To address this issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners have launched the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2012, which aims to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to life-saving vaccines. One of the key strategies of GVAP is to strengthen partnerships and collaboration among governments, donors, and other stakeholders to support the development, delivery, and financing of vaccines. In this regard, the National Partnership Agreement for Essential Vaccines (NPAEV) is a significant step forward in achieving this goal.
The NPAEV is a partnership between the Australian Government and all states and territories to ensure that every child in Australia has access to the complete schedule of vaccines recommended by the National Immunisation Program (NIP). The NIP provides free vaccines to protect against 16 diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, pneumococcal disease, and human papillomavirus (HPV). The NPAEV was first introduced in 2011 and was renewed in 2015 and 2020 for another five years. The agreement outlines the responsibilities of each party in delivering and funding vaccines, including the procurement, storage, distribution, and monitoring of vaccine coverage and adverse events. It also sets targets for vaccine coverage rates and evaluation criteria to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the program.
The NPAEV has been successful in achieving high vaccination rates in Australia, which is crucial for the herd immunity effect. Herd immunity means that if a sufficient proportion of the population is vaccinated, the spread of the disease is reduced, protecting even those who are not immunised or cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions. For example, the vaccination rate for children aged 1–4 years in 2019 was 94.8% for all vaccines in the NIP and 95.0% for the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). These rates are above the target of 95% set by the NPAEV, indicating that the program is on track to achieve its objectives. The NPAEV also provides flexibility for states and territories to tailor their immunisation programs to local needs and priorities, while maintaining a consistent national standard.
The NPAEV is not only beneficial for individuals and communities but also for the economy and the healthcare system. Vaccinations are cost-effective interventions that prevent diseases and their complications, reducing the burden of illness and the associated costs of treatment, hospitalisation, and productivity loss. For every dollar invested in immunisation, the return on investment can be up to 44 dollars, according to a report by the International Vaccines Access Center. Moreover, vaccines can prevent outbreaks and epidemics, which can strain the healthcare system and disrupt social and economic activities, as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conclusion, the National Partnership Agreement for Essential Vaccines is a critical component of the national immunisation program in Australia and a model for other countries to follow. The NPAEV demonstrates the importance of partnerships, collaboration, and leadership in achieving public health goals and the benefits of investing in vaccines as a preventive and cost-effective intervention. We need to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to essential vaccines, regardless of their economic or social status, to protect ourselves and others from infectious diseases.