Opening Speech of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the 26th Meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Western Pacific Region

Distinguished participants and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen:

Welcome to the 26th meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Western Pacific Region.

I am happy to report that Member States have made solid progress since last year's meeting. We are closer than ever to achieving the goals of the Regional Framework for Implementation of the Global Vaccine Action Plan in the Western Pacific.

Eighteen countries achieved the regional target of coverage above 95% with three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine as of 2015. And a total of 25 countries in the Region have achieved coverage of 90% or above.

The 2017 regional goal of reducing the prevalence of hepatitis B in 5-year-old children to less than 1% was achieved well ahead of schedule — 18 countries and areas have been verified as meeting this target to date.

In short, your immunization programmes are making a real difference.

Look at hepatitis B vaccination efforts alone. We have averted more than 7 million deaths and 37 million chronic cases among children born between 1990 and 2014.

To date, nine of the 12 countries with risk for Japanese Encephalitis (JE) have introduced JE vaccine in some high-risk areas.

Once again, we have maintained our polio-free status — despite a close call in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic last year. Quick and comprehensive response prevented an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio virus from spreading and jeopardizing the Region's polio-free status.

As of 2016, five countries and two areas in the Region were verified to have achieved and maintained measles elimination. All countries and areas in the Region have introduced rubella-containing vaccine into national immunization programmes. And rubella incidence declined significantly from 2011 to 2015.

I congratulate all of you on your role in these impressive achievements.

However — as I am sure you have become accustomed to hearing me say — we still have many challenges to face.

Funding challenges top the agenda for many. Member States must find alternative ways to support programmes in anticipation of transition away from donor support.

For some countries, this will mean finding other resources to replace support of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Donors have played a crucial role in new vaccine introduction and strengthening immunization systems in low- and middle-income countries — and in keeping the Region polio-free.

Ensuring equitable access to immunization will also continue to be a challenge. In particular, we must make certain to increase access to vaccination for vulnerable groups — such as migrants, minority ethnic groups and people in hard-to-reach areas.

Communicating the importance and safety of vaccinations is another key task. To be successful, immunization programmes must overcome vaccine hesitancy and bolster people's confidence in immunization.

In response, Member States have conducted communications training that targets affected groups and addresses misconceptions about immunization programmes.

We must continue to find ways to help Member States to address these challenges, sustain hard-fought gains and reach the remaining targets.

During this meeting, we will cover several key concerns:

Of course, we will discuss finalization of the draft regional strategy for measles and rubella elimination and a proposed regional target year for rubella elimination.

We will also examine the situation with global supply of inactivated polio vaccine and its implications for our Region. Regional plans for the expansion of environmental surveillance for poliovirus will also be addressed.

Finally, we will look at regional plans for hepatitis B control goals and activities.

On behalf of WHO and Member States, we greatly appreciate your efforts and expertise on these issues. Your guidance is vital in helping the Region to meet the goals and objectives of the regional framework.

Only by working together can we maintain strong national immunization programmes to protect the nearly 1.9 billion people we serve across the Western Pacific Region.

I wish you a productive session and look forward to reviewing your recommendations.

Have a pleasant stay in Manila.

Thank you.