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Harvard researchers: Vaccines could lessen deaths, poverty in developing countries

A Pakistani child is vaccinated against polio by a health worker in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2013.Associated Press/Muhammed Muheisen, FILE

Researchers at Harvard University believe that vaccinations could not only lower the number of deaths in developing countries, but also decrease poverty caused by the burden of medical expenses, according to a study published Monday.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Health Affairs. The lead researchers, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, included former doctoral candidates Angela Yang and Carlos Riumallo-Herl, former master’s candidate Nicole Perales, doctoral candidate Samantha Clark, and assistant professor Andrew Clark.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers found if investments were sufficient to administer 10 vaccines in 41 low- and middle-income countries, it could prevent up to 36 million deaths over 15 years.


Researchers also found it could prevent 24 million cases of medical impoverishment over the same period. Medical impoverishment is caused by out-of-pocket medical expenses by those who do not have access to affordable health care or insurance.

The poorest households would receive the most benefit from increased access to vaccines, researchers say. Because they are at a higher risk and have limited access to health care, this population is more vulnerable to diseases preventable by vaccine.

The researchers are calling for efforts to improve vaccine coverage among the poor, in hopes that it will also reduce poverty over time.

“Policy makers should be informed about the large health and economic distributional impact that vaccines could have, and they should view vaccination policies as potentially important channels for improving health equity.” the study’s abstract states.

The study also noted that the 41 countries studied are eligible for support from Gavi, the vaccine alliance aimed at combining public and private efforts to help make vaccines more affordable and accessible.

Laney Ruckstuhl can be reached at laney.ruckstuhl@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laneyruckstuhl.