Ensuring everyone is protected through immunization

News release

WHO/D. Hodgson

WHO Member States in the Western Pacific Region must continue their efforts to achieve universal immunization coverage to keep the Region free of polio, eliminate measles and control hepatitis B. This was the message at the Twenty-Second Meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Western Pacific Region.

"We have achieved truly impressive milestones. But still, great challenges lie ahead," said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "We need to move forward so that the Western Pacific countries implement their polio endgame strategies by 2018. We also need to implement the Global Vaccine Action Plan in the Region in order to reach the goals set in the Decade of Vaccines. This will ensure we reach the target of Millennium Development Goal Number Four—to reduce child mortality by two thirds."

Dr Shin spoke at the meeting, which was held on 25 to 27 June at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila. Participants from 14 of the Region's 37 countries and areas discussed the implementation of the WHO Global Vaccine Action Plan and progress toward the goals of the Decade of Vaccines. The action plan is the cornerstone to achieving full immunization coverage of all individuals and communities in WHO Member States.

Polio was a main topic of discussion. "The Region has retained its polio-free status and China responded well to an outbreak in 2011," said Dr Shin. "But there is always the risk that the virus might be reintroduced from the outside. In this light, polio immunization remains a key concern for us all." WHO hopes to keep the Region polio-free by introducing new vaccines, such as the single dose of inactivated polio vaccine. These measures, along with improved surveillance, will help keep Member States polio-free until the virus is eradicated worldwide.

"The elimination of measles and stronger hepatitis B control remain key challenges for us all in the Region," continued Dr Shin. Through WHO programmes, at least 30 countries and areas in the Western Pacific are believed to have reduced chronic hepatitis B infection rates in children to less than 2%. The goal is now to reduce the infection rate among children to less than 1% through comprehensive vaccination coverage.

Efforts by WHO, Member States and partners have brought down the number of measles cases in the Region to a historic low. High measles vaccination coverage aims to immunize 95% of each birth cohort in the Western Pacific. WHO has also stressed strengthening laboratory and surveillance capacity to improve preparedness against potential measles outbreaks. Other regional challenges include the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus.

WHO also advised Member States to take on new goals, particularly stronger control of Japanese encephalitis and the elimination of rubella in the Region. The recent rubella outbreak in Japan raised concerns about a potential vaccine gap in the country.

One challenge for immunization efforts is logistics. Reaching remote mountain communities during the rainy season in the Lao People's Democratic Republic is difficult, as is ensuring adequate service coverage over the expansive and sparsely populated islands in the Pacific. WHO can help Member States improve their staff capabilities, as well as encourage them to share good practices and new ideas.

WHO and its partners apply the Reaching Every District (RED) approach to help countries with community-engagement strategies and to develop systems to monitor and trace individuals' immunization status. These are important if immunization efforts are to be effective. For instance, WHO assisted Cambodia in developing an improved database for monitoring national measles and rubella vaccination programmes. In China, WHO helped establish the national surveillance system to monitor reactions to vaccines and reassure the public about the safety of vaccinations. WHO also supports the development and introduction of new vaccines and technologies.

"Through immunization efforts such as the Global Vaccine Action Plan, we can continue to make important gains in immunization coverage in the Western Pacific Region," said Dr Shin. "We should strive to ensure that every individual and community is protected from polio, measles, hepatitis and other vaccine-preventable diseases."

For more information, please contact:

Dr Sergei Diorditsa
Team Leader, Expanded Programme on Immunization
Tel.: +632 528 9745
E-mail: diorditsas@wpro.who.int

Mr Nikhil Ray
Communications Analyst
Tel.: +632 528 8001
E-mail: rayn@wpro.who.int