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WHO asks countries scale-up routine immunization along with covid-19 vaccination

The vulnerability to vaccine preventable diseases has increased with the pandemic disrupting essential immunization services and surveillance for vaccine preventable disease. (Photo: Reuters)Premium
The vulnerability to vaccine preventable diseases has increased with the pandemic disrupting essential immunization services and surveillance for vaccine preventable disease. (Photo: Reuters)

  • Though routine immunisation services were among the first essential services that countries began to restore during the pandemic, routine vaccination has taken a hit 

NEW DELHI: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday urged countries in South-East Asia Region to boost routine immunisation along with efforts to increase covid-19 vaccination coverage.

“The vulnerability to vaccine preventable diseases has increased with the pandemic disrupting essential immunization services and surveillance for vaccine preventable disease. Though efforts are being made, much more needs to be done specially at the sub-national levels and to reach the unreached and underserved population," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia, at the Seventy-Fourth Regional Committee meeting.

Recalling the strong progress made until the onset of the pandemic, Singh said that by 2019, the region was in a historically best position related to vaccine preventable disease control with 91% coverage with three doses of DTP vaccine (DTP3). Ten of 11 countries had achieved more than 90% DTP3 coverage.

Though routine immunisation services were among the first essential services that countries began to restore during the pandemic, the DTP3 coverage in the region dipped to 85% in 2020. The number of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children increased to 4.9 million from 3 million in 2019. Surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases was also affected.

The covid-19 pandemic also hit implementation of strategies for measles and rubella elimination, a flagship priority in the region. The estimated coverage with the first dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV1) declined to 88% in 2020 from 94% in 2019. Similarly, coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine declined to 78% from 83% in 2019. The pandemic has also resulted in surveillance gaps in several countries and delayed implementation of mass vaccination campaigns and other immunisation-related activities.

“There is an urgent need to repair the damage caused by COVID-19, to regain the momentum achieved in the previous decade, and to protect infants, young people and adults with life-saving vaccines," Singh said.

The regional committee meeting also discussed the strategic framework for southeast Asia Regional Vaccine Action Plan 2022−2030 which focuses on the rollout of covid-19 vaccination and restoration of immunisation systems and vaccine-preventable disease surveillance from the impact of the pandemic.

“Implementation of the framework will need high-level political and programmatic commitment and partner collaboration to which WHO is committed," she said.

Countries in the region are making unprecedented efforts to expand covid-19 vaccination coverage with over 915 million doses administered so far. 

The meeting is the annual governing body meeting of WHO South-East Asia Region. Being hosted by Nepal, the meeting is being held virtually for the second consecutive year given the pandemic.

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