Kate O’Brien, Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO
As 2022 draws to an end, let me take this opportunity to highlight some of the key events during November and December, that will shape and direct our joint work in 2023 and beyond.
Together with one of our key partners, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we published our annual measles report. In 2021, there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128 000 deaths from measles worldwide. Declines in vaccine coverage, weakened measles surveillance, and continued interruptions and delays in immunization activities due to COVID-19, as well as persistent large outbreaks in 2022, mean that measles is an imminent threat in every region of the world. Under the Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030), global immunization partners remain committed to supporting investments in strengthening surveillance to detect outbreaks quickly, respond with urgency, and immunize all children who are not yet protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
WHO shared the Mid-Term Evaluation of the Implementation of the Strategic Action Plan on Polio Transition (2018 – 2023), which has important findings. WHO regions and programmes are taking action on ten key recommendations of the evaluation, with a united and proactive strategy to sustain integrated functions and assets where they are most needed. WHO’s management response to the evaluation aims to build on these successes and lessons learned. Efforts will be tied together through the development in 2023 of a global vision for polio transition, supported by tailored regional action plans and a strengthened monitoring and evaluation framework. Stay tuned for the soon to be released Mid-term evaluation of the Yellow Fever (EYE) strategy.
The IA2030 Partnership Council (IAPC), the political leadership of IA2030 held its 2nd meeting of the year. In 2021, just 20 countries accounted for 78% (over 14.2 million) of all zero-dose children worldwide: India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Philippines, DR Congo, Brazil, Pakistan, Angola, Myanmar, United Republic of Tanzania, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Madagascar, Cameroon, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Chad, and Vietnam. Our projections indicate that immunization coverage in some of these 20 countries may not return to 2019 levels until 2027 without immediate and intensified efforts, motivating an urgent need to act and close this immunity gap.
The IAPC highlighted concern for how to recover and get back on track, noting the need for bringing critical links to the broader global health agenda and commitment to support the implementation of IA2030, including through advocacy for political commitment. The IAPC aligned on the need to leverage and unblock all partner resources track, to accelerate all approaches of IA2030 to catch-up, recover and get back to the trajectory of reaching IA2030 goals.
All countries need to take action to address critical gaps and backsliding on immunization. Whilst recognizing the need for global action, IA2030 partners will tailor the support to achieve country specific impact, building on the intensified focused country work on COVID-19 vaccine, polio, and other ways of working.
This week, I look forward to participating in the Gavi Board meeting, where the Alliance Board will be deliberating and deciding on a number of critical agenda items including: Gavi 5.1 and roles in Pandemic Preparedness and Response; Relaunch of Gavi’s Human papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Programme; Gavi’s role in support to Regional and African Vaccine Manufacturing; and COVAX Key Strategic Issues including Gavi’s role in a future COVID-19 Vaccine Programme.
As the year draws to an end, WHO is holding its 11th Global Management Meeting (GMM). Coinciding with the beginning of the Director-General’s second term and on the brink of WHO’s 75th anniversary, the purpose of the meeting is to take stock of the lessons learned since last meeting in 2018, including WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and progress towards the achievement of the triple billion agenda and SDGs; agree on the way forward on the implementation of the WHO’s five priorities for the next five years; and affirm three-level commitment to work together on achieving results in the context of evolving global, regional, and country health challenges.
Looking forward to 2023, WHO, along with the IA2030 partnership structure and institutions, will establish 2023 as an intensified year of action on immunization. Intensification in 2023 would aim to catch up, recover, and strengthen the immunization programme to at least 2019 (pre-pandemic) level, with the target to reach 50.5 million additional children with essential immunizations, including 35.7 million with catch-up activities in 2023, through intensified action, thereby limiting and averting a growing crisis of vaccine preventable disease deaths and disease. The actions also propose that by 2024, countries would be on the trajectory required to achieve the IA2030 goals, including to save 50 million lives by 2030. This is about using all the levels available for countries to advance their immunization programmes and build on the strong political will demonstrated during COVID-19, for the value of vaccines.
With our collective intensified work set for the years ahead, let me take this opportunity to wish you Season’s greetings and good health for 2023!