New Delhi, July 16: The World Health Organization has called for greater efforts in the South-East Asia Region to revive routine immunization rates to the pre-Covid pandemic.
"Commendably the Region has administered 3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to date, since January 2021 when the first dose of vaccine was administered in the South-East Asia Region. As we focus on further scaling up COVID-19 vaccination coverage, we must also do all we can to ensure no child is deprived of life-saving vaccines offered under routine immunization services," said the Regional Director WHO South-East Asia, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh. She further noted that many nations had demonstrated that routine immunization can be maintained along with the Covid-19 vaccination.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand maintained excellent vaccination rates of above 95% coverage for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP3).
Bhutan's DTP3 coverage fell slightly in 2020 but increased in 2021 to 98 percent, surpassing its pre-pandemic level of 97 percent. DTP3, or the third dose of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine, is used as a proxy indicator of immunisation coverage all over the world.
On the other hand, Nepal significantly increased the coverage of DTP3 routine vaccinations from 84 percent in 2020 to 91 percent in 2021. These six nations have likewise attained high rates of Covid-19 vaccination.
Routine immunisation coverage fell in India as well in 2020, while Timor-Leste, another Asian nation, appeared to decrease in 2021, signalling programme recoveries as well.
Together, Covid-19 and other childhood vaccines were administered in close to 2 billion doses in India in 2021, more than 5 times the amount of vaccines given there in a single year as in 2020.
During the pandemic, all of the South-East Asian nations prioritised necessary services over routine immunisation, and ongoing efforts are being made to increase vaccine coverage with an emphasis on finding and immunising "missed children."
The Region's top priority of eliminating measles and rubella was pursued throughout the pandemic. Nepal significantly boosted the coverage for the second dose of the measles and rubella vaccine from 76% in 2019 to 87% in 2021. Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Bhutan all kept their corresponding coverage rates throughout the pandemic.
"WHO is cognizant of the efforts and is supporting the member states to improve routine immunization coverage. With stepped-up efforts in recent months, we hope to see a speedy scale-up of DTP3 coverage to the pre-pandemic level of 91 per cent in 2019 from 82 per cent in 2021 and second dose measles and rubella vaccine coverage to beyond 83 per cent in 2019 from 78 per cent in 2021," says the Regional Director.
Through "Mission Indradhanush," routine immunisation is periodically intensified in India. In order to guide short- and medium-term plans to improve coverage in all such regions, WHO has sponsored extensive mapping and categorization of poor service areas in states.
Timor-Leste is getting technical assistance from WHO to increase routine immunisation coverage and Covid-19 vaccine coverage in difficult-to-reach locations in order to improve management capacities and strengthen cold chain and data management systems at the sub-national level.