Opening Remarks of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the 21st Meeting of the TAG on Immunization and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the WPR

Manila, Philippines
21 August 2012

DISTINGUISHED PARTICIPANTS,
DEAR COLLEAGUES,
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

Good morning. Welcome to the 21st meeting of the Technical Advisory Group —or TAG — on Immunization and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Western Pacific Region.

For more than two decades, TAG has guided us in setting goals and pressed for effective coordination to increase the impact of immunization efforts.

We set 2012 as our target year for eliminating measles, reducing hepatitis B infection in children to less than 2%, and staying polio-free.

I would like to congratulate Member States on their hard work towards achieving these targets.

The Region is on the verge of eliminating measles.

China vaccinated more than 100 million children across the country in 2010. The result has been a substantial reduction in measles cases.

Cases also declined steeply in Viet Nam after 97% of children were vaccinated in 2010, just as they did in Japan after implementation of a five-year immunization and surveillance plan.

Vaccination campaigns during 2011 reduced significantly the number of measles cases in Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

Mongolia has had no confirmed measles cases reported in the past two years.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong (China), Macao (China), Fiji and the other Pacific island countries and areas report few confirmed measles cases, which are likely imported or import-related.

To date, 32 countries and areas may have interrupted endemic transmission. That is an incredible number.

Despite the successes, measles still circulates in a few countries. Urgent and effective actions are required in these countries to interrupt sustained transmission as soon as possible.

We all look to TAG for guidance on strategic approaches to achieving and sustaining measles elimination and preparing for the verification process.

The hepatitis B milestone of reducing infection prevalence in children to less than 2% is also an unprecedented success. It is estimated that the milestone has been met by the Region as a whole and by at least 30 countries and areas individually.

With this progress, TAG recommended setting a target year for the 1% control goal. In March the Region’s Hepatitis B Expert Resource Panel proposed 2017.

Your input from this meeting will be important as we work towards a consensus for a target year to be announced at next year's Regional Committee Meeting.

After having been certified poliomyelitis-free for 10 years, China experienced an outbreak in 2011 from a wild poliovirus importation from Pakistan.

I commend China on its swift and comprehensive response to contain the threat.

Sadly, countries in the Western Pacific Region remain at-risk from the remaining pockets of polio in the world.

Ongoing immunization gaps and decreasing awareness of surveillance requirements leave several countries vulnerable for poliomyelitis re-importation.

In this area, guidance from TAG is essential to assess risks and plan appropriate interventions to keep the Region free of poliomyelitis.

As I have said to this group before, strengthening immunization systems is at the core of EPI disease control and elimination efforts.

I recommend that TAG discuss the new Global Vaccine Action Plan for the Decade of Vaccines that was approved by all regions during the 2012 World Health Assembly.

TAG guidance and input from Member States should be important parts of the global vaccination plan.

We must take the lead and prioritize immunization efforts that are most needed in our Region.

Likewise, TAG should provide guidance on developing national vaccine regulatory authorities and surveillance systems for adverse events following immunization.

In the Region, only seven countries have functional regulatory systems to make sure vaccines are safe and effective, according to the WHO criteria.

Finally, I ask TAG to consider how to accelerate the introduction of new and underutilized vaccines, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

In this day and age, people should not suffer from diseases that can be prevented with vaccines, such as pneumococcal disease, rotavirus gastroenteritis, human papilloma virus and Japanese encephalitis.

I look forward to hearing TAG recommendations about this and other issues at the close of this meeting.

I want to end by thanking all of you for making the Expanded Programme on Immunization a vibrant and productive force in the Western Pacific Region.

I would like to thank all partners, donors and friends personally. We are truly grateful for your support in protecting so many children in the Region from vaccine-preventable and other diseases.

Enjoy your stay in Manila.

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