Message by the Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO – April 2023

24 April 2023 

Reading time: 4 min (1126 words)

We are pleased to have successfully concluded our 1st SAGE meeting of 2023 in March with deepest appreciation to our scientific experts, partners and immunization Regional Advisers.

The recovery of the immunization programme in the wake of the pandemic impacts continues to dominate our focused efforts.  This was a major topic at our 1st meeting of 2023 of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) in March and was a theme of the Global Vaccine and Immunization Research Forum (GVIRF) biannual convening in Seoul, South Korea in April.  These two major convenings, on policy and research, were at the heart of the collective early 2023 discussions and forward momentum. I want to express deep appreciation to the scientific experts, partners, and to the WHO Regional Advisors on Immunization, for the participation in both of these major convenings.  The opportunities we have, collectively, to forge the way toward more impactful programmes, and advance the research agenda on the most meaningful issues set the foundations for what will be better vaccines and immunization programmes around the corner.

Among the numerous recommendations, the SAGE issued recommendations focusing on the need for immunization intensification, including catch-up activities, and for enhancing preparedness for outbreak response, with Regions supporting high-risk countries. It was agreed that the highest priorities for the 2023-2025 period will be the zero-dose child agenda, routine immunization strengthening (with gap filling to reduce outbreak risk especially of measles and polio), response to outbreaks, revitalization of HPV vaccination, malaria vaccine introduction, and integration of COVID-19 vaccination into routine immunization and primary health care. SAGE also issued a major update to the Roadmap for Prioritizing Uses of COVID-19 Vaccine which takes into account the current disease epidemiology, the characteristics of the Omicron variant, and the evidence on high population immunity across all geographies (derived from a combination of infection and vaccine induced immunity).  This critically important resource will be valuable to countries as they determine national immunization recommendations in the transition from the acute phase of the pandemic toward COVID-19 vaccine programmes that are integrated into routine immunization and other primary health care services. Please click here to view to the full SAGE report.

The 4th biannual Global Vaccine and Immunization Research Forum (GVRF), was held in-person for the first time since 2019, with over 450 participants from around the world gathered in Incheon, Republic of Korea to track progress and discuss obstacles related to priority vaccine research and development, to  identify gaps, opportunities and actions for the research and development (R&D) community in the areas of vaccines and immunization and to review progress made towards the IA2030 SP7 research and development strategic objectives and goals. The Forum was also an opportunity to present WHO vaccine biomanufacturing training hub in the Republic of Korea to the rest of the world.  One of the outcomes was the changing geographical shift towards LMICs in the quality of the science, R&D and manufacturing like for the Republic of Korea and many other counties, in the quality of the epidemiology being done in Africa and in the quality of the regulations in Latin America leading to more equity and justice.

In the run up to the World Health Assembly, (WHA, 21 – 30 May 2023), we held an information session for Member State representatives on 24 March to brief them on the most pressing vaccine and immunization related issues. Representatives were appraised of the intensification efforts in 2023 ‘Immunization Agenda (IA2030): The global “Big Catch-up” effort’, the multi-partner commitment to both technical and advocacy activation to reverse the unprecedented backsliding in routine immunization coverage and to catch-up those who were missed by immunization programmes during the pandemic period.

The special efforts, the “Big Catch-up”, are a unique opportunity to assure that every countries’ programme comes out of 2023 on a solid footing, with filling of immunity gaps that ballooned over the pandemic period, and a new trajectory of the immunization programme performance to reduce the number of zero-dose children in every year that follows. It is important to renew global commitments to tackle the surge in cases of diseases such as measles, yellow fever, and polio, including in areas where they had previously been controlled or eliminated.

The theme for 2023’s WIW is ‘The Big Catch-up’, aligned with the 2023 year of intensification. We invite the global immunization community and our key partners to join us next week (24 to 30 April) for WIW under the hashtag #VaccinesWork, as we unite partners and people behind a focused global push to highlight the life-saving importance of vaccines and immunization.  Throughout WIW we will highlight successes from countries that have sustained vaccination programmes over the last three years, as well as on newly initiated efforts to scale up vaccinations. WIW is an opportunity to elevate specific asks for priority countries and highlight the barriers to vaccination including conflict and emergencies. We need action everywhere but especially in the 20 countries where over three-quarters of children who missed vaccinations in 2021 live. WIW marks the start of ‘the Big Catch-up’, as the year-long push to catch, up, restore and strengthen immunization programmes to surpass the pre-pandemic performance levels. 

Please visit the World Immunization Week 2023 where you can find all the social media assets and more information on activities during the week. Take part, join in, and add your voice.

Looking ahead to the WHA, which will take place from 21 to 30 May 2023, on the immunization front, Members States will be provided with a progress report on “the global road map on defeating meningitis by 2030”, along with a polio update. We are also delighted to announce that our Director General will be hosting a Strategic Round Table on “A safer and healthier tomorrow by restoring essential immunization today “on Friday 26 May at the Palais.

As we prepare for the upcoming high-level meetings on health in the UN General Assembly, let me take this opportunity to mark WHO’s 75th anniversary.  Over the last 75 years, countries of the world have come together as one, through WHO, to advance the ambition of achieving the highest possible standard of human health for everyone, everywhere. Time and again, we have experienced that investing in science lies at the heart of achieving a healthy and prosperous future. WHO has contributed to landmark achievements in public health, including the eradication of smallpox, the near eradication of polio, the expansion of childhood immunization and, more recently, the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saving tens upon tens of millions of lives. On this day and every day, let’s commit to achieve Health for All.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *