Challenges Remain For Worldwide Immunization By Vaccination

Even though important milestones in the elimination of rubella and measles have been achieved worldwide, key challenges remain, presenters said during a technical briefing organised by the World Health Organization last week.

The briefing was held in the context of the annual World Health Assembly, taking place from 22-31 May.

WHA technical briefing

The WHO Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals organised the technical briefing Reaching everyone, everywhere with life-saving vaccines on 24 May. The panel discussion focused on the goals and challenges of immunization, as established in the Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011–2020.

Carissa F. Etienne, WHO regional director for the Americas, said that strong political commitment, solidarity and coordination between member states is essential to achieve the immunization goals within WHO. The biggest challenge is to retain the achievements made in the Americas in order to establish worldwide immunization of measles and rubella, she said.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan, addressing the briefing, said that it is necessary to make sure everyone is covered. Etienne highlighted that the prevention of an outbreak is less costly and disruptive than dealing with an epidemic outbreak.

Worldwide coverage by vaccination is, however, hindered by different obstacles such as regulatory requirements, logistical problems, vaccination hesitancy, and financial and political crises, several speakers said.

Chan said that we should not be too pessimistic. Some countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and India, have been making tremendous progress in immunization programs especially in reaching vulnerable populations. Attention was drawn to Mission Indradhanush, a program of the Indian government that aims to cover 90 percent of pregnant women and children younger than two years with 11 vaccines.

Sustainable financing is a key element for successful immunization, according to a representative of Save the Children, which suggests that countries should allocate at least five percent of their gross domestic product to public health. The non-governmental organisation stressed the importance of ensuring that all children receive the necessary vaccines in time. Civil society is an important player, according to Save the Children, to speak up for communities that are left behind.

Immunization by vaccination is however not only the responsibility of the state, but also of the parents, according to Søren Brostrøm, director-general of the Danish Health Authority. He mentioned the difficulty recently experienced in Denmark in convincing parents to vaccinate their children. Despite the existing strong evidence and reporting systems, a lot of young parents delay vaccination as they do not realise the danger of diseases such as measles and polio, he said. Brostrøm concluded that immunization by vaccination is also a challenge for high-income countries.

Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director general for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, said there is a similar resistance to vaccines by parents in Italy.

Elise De Geyter is an intern at Intellectual Property Watch and a candidate for the LLM Intellectual Property and Technology Law at the National University of Singapore (class 2017).


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