The World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday urged the countries in South-East Asia Region to enhance routine immunisation along with the ongoing efforts to rapidly increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
“The vulnerability to vaccine preventable diseases has increased with the pandemic disrupting essential immunsation 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 Dr. 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, the Regional Director said, by 2019 the Region was in a historically best position related to vaccine preventable disease control with 91 percent coverage with three doses of DTP vaccine (DTP3). Ten of 11 countries had achieved more than 90 percent 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 percent in 2020. The number of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children increased to 4.9 million compared to 3 million in 2019. Surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases was also affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted 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) in the Region declined to 88 percent in 2020 compared with 94 percent in 2019. Similarly, coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine declined to 78 percent in 2020 compared with 83 percent in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in surveillance gaps in several countries and has delayed implementation of mass vaccination campaigns and other immunization-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,” Dr. Khetrapal Singh said.
The ongoing Regional Committee meeting discussed the Strategic Framework for the South-East Asia Regional Vaccine Action Plan 2022-2030 which focuses on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination and restoration of immunisation systems and vaccine-preventable disease surveillance from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Region has maintained its status of having eradicated polio and eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus. Measles elimination has been achieved and maintained in five countries, while two of these countries have also achieved rubella elimination. Four countries have been verified as having achieved hepatitis B control through immunisation.
Source : TRN,