Four immunization innovations that are saving children's lives

Seven-month-old Alinamda and her immunization card at the Mbekweni Clinic in Paarl, South Africa.

Story highlights

  • The theme of this year's World Immunization Week is Close the Immunization Gap
  • 1.5 million children around the world don't receive the life-saving vaccines they need
  • New approaches to old problems are yielding fresh tools to fight vaccine-preventable diseases

Dr. Orin Levine is director of vaccine delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

(CNN)One of the things I like most about spring is that my 52-week-a-year job gets extra attention for one full week: World Immunization Week.

Each year, the World Health Organization uses the last week of April to turn attention to saving lives through immunization.
    This year, the week's theme is Close the Immunization Gap, centering on the need to reach the 1.5 million children who still don't receive the life-saving vaccines they need. Though reaching every child on the planet is ambitious, we know it makes communities healthier and stronger and, most important, saves and improves the lives of people everywhere.
      What will it take to realize this aspirational goal? There is no question that governments need to prioritize and commit financial resources to immunization, and civil society organizations can help serve as the engines to power efforts at the local level. And fortunately for government and civil leaders everywhere, innovations are available to help turn their commitments into action.
      Right now, we're in the midst of a period marked by the most creative thinking and development to increase immunization we've seen in decades. New approaches to old problems -- both simple and complex -- are yielding fresh tools to fight vaccine-preventable diseases, from space-age refrigerators to a user-centric design for simple paper immunization cards.
      I want to tell you about four innovations that I am particularly excited about.
        A woman hands over her daughter's vaccination card as the vaccine supply awaits in a cold storage box at the Behsood Basic Health Centre in Afghanistan.
        First, for vaccines to be safe and effective, they need to be kept cold. And in many countries, the climate is hot, and electricity is inconsistent or unavailable. Today, most vaccine storage refrigerators in developing countries are based on old technology that's inefficient and unreliable. These refrigerators incur unnecessary costs for maintenance and fuel. It's like they're running on gas-guzzling cars from the 1970s when what's needed today is something akin to an electric vehicle.
        For the first time in decades, this area of equipment is benefiting from significant innovation. One example includes new vaccine refrigerators that are precise, are energy-efficient and use solar power rather than relying solely on the power grid to operate effectively.
        The Sure Chill refrigerator uses hydro and solar power to keep vaccines cold for days without energy. Sure Chill refrigerators are being used in more than 30 countries and have become an important tool in humanitarian response efforts when distributing vacci