WHO Releases Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy Update To Reach Unprotected

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AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is rolling out a global COVID-19 vaccination strategy to reach the world’s most vulnerable and unprotected population.

Breaking the news via its Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy today, July 22, 2022, WHO said the move was in response to the spread of Omicron subvariants, advances in vaccine evidence and lessons from the global vaccination programme.

The global COVID-19 vaccination roll-out is the biggest and fastest in history but many of those at greatest risk remain unprotected – only 28 per cent of older people and 37 per cent of health care workers in low-income countries have received their primary course of vaccines and most have not received booster doses.

Health care workers, persons older than 60 and other at-risk groups must be reached as priorities on the way to reaching the 70 per cent coverage target, the global health regulator said.

WHO’s strategy update elevates the targets of vaccinating 100 per cent of health care workers and 100 per cent of the highest risk populations with both primary and booster doses, to reduce deaths, keep societies open and ensure economies function as transmission continues.

While vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not substantially reduced the spread of COVID-19. Innovation is needed to develop new vaccines that substantially reduce transmission, are easier to administer and give broader and longer-lasting protection.

In the first year of rollouts, COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have saved 19.8 million lives. Through unprecedently large and rapid rollouts worldwide, over 12 billion doses have been administered globally, in nearly every country in the world, resulting in countries reaching 60 per cent of their populations on average. 

Yet only 28 per cent of older populations and 37 per cent of health care workers in low-income countries have been vaccinated with their primary series. 27 of WHO’s member states have not yet started a booster or additional dose program, 11 of which are low-income countries. 

The strategy aims to use primary and booster doses to reduce deaths and severe diseases to protect health systems, societies and economies. On the way to reaching the 70 per cent vaccination target, countries should prioritize achieving the underpinning targets of vaccinating 100 per cent of health care workers and 100 per cent of the most vulnerable groups, including older populations (over 60s) and those who are immunocompromised or have underlying conditions. 

“Even where 70 per cent vaccination coverage is achieved, if significant numbers of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups remain unvaccinated, deaths will continue, health systems will remain under pressure and the global recovery will be at risk,” said WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Vaccinating all those most at risk is the single best way to save lives, protect health systems and keep societies and economies open.”

To ensure vaccines reach the highest priority groups, the strategy emphasizes the need for measuring progress in vaccinating these groups and developing targeted approaches to reach them. Approaches include using local data and engaging communities to sustain demand for vaccines, building systems for vaccinating adults and reaching more displaced people through humanitarian response. 

The strategy also has the goal of accelerating development and ensuring equitable access to improved vaccines to substantially reduce transmission as the top priority but also to achieve durable, broadly protective immunity. 

Current vaccines were designed to prevent serious illness and death, which they have succeeded in doing, saving millions of lives. However, they have not substantially reduced transmission. As the virus continues to circulate widely, new and dangerous variants are emerging, including some which reduce the efficacy of vaccines. It is fundamental to continue investing in research and development to make more effective, easier to administer vaccines, such as nasal spray products. 

Other vital actions to take include: equitably distributing manufacturing facilities across regions and supporting strong vaccine delivery programs. WHO will continue to collaborate with COVAX and COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (CoVDP) partners to support countries with rollouts, such as through packaging COVID-19 vaccination with other health interventions.

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