Today, fewer children die from preventable causes than ever before. Globally, vaccines against childhood diseases such as measles, tetanus and polio have contributed to a reduction in deaths of children under five by more than half—from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. But the battle against vaccine-preventable deaths is far from over.

Reaching every child

Take measles, for example. A safe and effective vaccine has existed for more than 50 years. This decade alone, it is projected to prevent more deaths than all other vaccines combined. But while deaths from measles dropped by 78 percent between 2000 and 2012 worldwide, the highly contagious virus still kills about 330 children every day, mainly in Africa and Asia.

"Every year, nearly one fifth of the world’s infants miss out on basic immunization, and more than 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases."

The challenge is reaching every child. More than 21 million children in low- and middle-income countries missed out on basic vaccines in 2013. Many of them live in extreme poverty, conflict zones or remote areas. In the Central African Republic, for example, the conflict that began in December 2012 has severely weakened the health care system, resulting in several measles outbreaks.

Meanwhile, mistrust and misinformation are gaining momentum worldwide. In the United States, parents choosing to skip or delay vaccinations for their kids sparked last year’s measles outbreak, the largest in the U.S. since 2000. According to a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 17 states had measles vaccination rates lower than the recommended 90 percent.

Smart economics

Vaccines not only save lives—they save money. That’s because immunization costs much less than treating a sick child. A household in Ethiopia can lose one month’s income if a child is sick from measles, whereas the price of one vaccine dose can be as little as $0.23.

Over time, the savings from immunizing more children could be huge. A 2011 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that if existing vaccines were available to every child in the world’s 72 poorest countries, over a decade that would save 6.4 million lives, $6.2 billion in treatment costs and $145 billion in productivity losses.

Yet every year, nearly one fifth of the world’s infants miss out on basic immunization, and more than 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s time to put children first and ensure that every child gets the protection he or she deserves.