Kids often cry during a vaccination, and lots of folks cringe at needles. That’s sad, but here’s the happy news: Widespread, routine vaccination saves 2 million to 3 million lives each year.

Immunizations are widely considered among the most cost-effective health services money can buy, which is something to celebrate during World Immunization Week, April 24–30.

National and international health organizations will recommit themselves to “closing the immunization gap” to reach the estimated 20 percent of the world’s children who don’t receive the protections offered by routine vaccination. Diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea all can be prevented with immunization, but almost 22 million children are left unprotected each year.

infographic on immunization week

Why? Maybe countries can’t afford vaccines. Maybe health care workers can’t manage delivery to every child in every village, delta or jungle. Maybe a conflict, disaster or terrorists stand in their way.

During Immunization Week 2015, countries will reaffirm their promises to implement the Global Vaccine Action Plan. Almost 200 national governments have endorsed this goal to achieve universal access to vaccines by 2020, preventing millions of deaths in the bargain.

Lapses in routine vaccination caused Somalia’s measles outbreak. Polio cases also have appeared. (© AP Images)

Here are the plan’s goals:

  • Strengthen routine immunization to increase coverage of populations.

  • Speed action against vaccine-preventable diseases with polio eradication as the first milestone.

  • Introduce new and improved vaccines.

  • Promote development of the next generation of vaccines and technologies.

Two of the major U.S. partners in this global effort are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With a $10 billion donation from the foundation, the two are working to improve vaccine development, delivery and innovation in the world’s poorest countries. After a start in 2010, the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration is working toward 2020 to make sure to “extend … the full benefits of immunization to all people, regardless of where they are born, who they are, or where they live.”