First Meeting on Seasonal Influenza Vaccines in the Western Pacific Region
22 to 23 October 2012
The WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) gathers and analyses information on the appearance of novel strains of influenza virus. It also collects and collates data on circulating strains of influenza viruses, which enables WHO to recommend twice annually the content of the influenza vaccine for the subsequent influenza season. In the Western Pacific Region the GISRS currently includes 21 National Influenza Centres (NICs) in 15 countries and three WHO Collaborating Centres for Reference and Research on Influenza: one each in Australia, China and Japan. Development of capacity for influenza preparedness and response in the Region has evolved since 2005 with emphasis moving from development of laboratory capacity at NICs and CCs to development or strengthening of influenza-like-illness epidemiological surveillance in Member States to consideration of influenza vaccines for seasonal influenza control and pandemic preparedness while continuing laboratory and surveillance strengthening.
Immunization against influenza is considered among the most important interventions in reducing the public health impact of seasonal and pandemic influenza. However, despite GISRS members in the Western Pacific contributing more than 76% of the virus isolates for the global vaccine composition effort from 1998 to present, seasonal influenza vaccination programmes have been limited to a few countries and areas in this Region. As per the WHO 2009 Survey for the Global Mapping of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine, only six countries and areas reported having annual seasonal influenza vaccination as part of national immunization. Therefore, the experience of using seasonal influenza vaccines and the knowledge of seasonal influenza vaccine types, safety, effectiveness, cost effectiveness and regulatory issues is limited in the Region.
The 2009 influenza pandemic provided an opportunity for countries and areas to develop and execute plans for influenza immunization. While overall pandemic vaccine deployment and use in the Region was successful, many challenges were faced given the lack of influenza vaccine experience in many countries and areas and the targeting of "non-traditional" populations, and other programmatic challenges, including vaccine licensing and other national regulatory issues within Member States. Lessons learnt from the pandemic experience will be valuable for informing seasonal influenza immunization.
To provide guidance to Member States, WHO issues a periodically updated position paper on seasonal (epidemic) influenza and the public health impact of yearly influenza vaccination. Based on a comprehensive review of the influenza disease burden, vaccine performance, and safety in populations of all ages and at-risk groups, in April 2012 the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) proposed specific recommendations with the objective of revising the 2005 WHO position paper on influenza vaccines.
The World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific will organize the First Meeting on Influenza Vaccines in the Western Pacific Region to: increase technical capacity on the technical aspects of seasonal influenza vaccines for the control of seasonal epidemics and pandemic preparedness; update countries on the new SAGE recommendations and WHO position paper on influenza vaccines; review lessons learnt from the 2009 influenza pandemic regarding immunization; and develop a plan for addressing national regulatory issues associated with seasonal influenza vaccines. This meeting will be held back-to-back with the Regional Workshop on Surveillance and Laboratory Networks for New Vaccine Preventable Diseases organized by the WPRO EPI unit.
The objectives of the meeting are:
- to increase capacity on the technical aspects of seasonal influenza vaccines for the control of seasonal epidemics and pandemic preparedness;
- to update countries and areas on the new SAGE recommendations and WHO position paper on influenza vaccines;
- to review the lessons learnt from the 2009 influenza pandemic as regards influenza immunization; and
- to develop a plan for addressing national regulatory issues and enhancing regulatory capacity associated with seasonal influenza vaccines.