The World Health Organization on Friday called on countries in South-East Asia to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage as the region again witnessing a rise in cases.
While significant progress has been made in the region towards vaccinating populations against COVID-19, several countries missed the global target to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of their total population with all primary doses of the vaccine by June end, a WHO statement said.
We know that the current COVID-19 vaccines provide high levels of protection against severe disease and death for all variants. We must focus on rapidly achieving high vaccination coverage prioritizing health workers, older adults, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women.
The pandemic is not over yet, we must scale up our efforts to protect communities, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia. She congratulated countries that have achieved the target of 70 per cent of their population completing primary series of COVID-19 vaccination.
Bhutan has 89 per cent population vaccinated with all primary doses, Thailand 79.9 per cent, Maldives 70.4 per cent and Bangladesh 70.2 per cent. Nepal with 69.3 % is close to achieving the global June end vaccination goal, she said. India, which will soon mark 2 billion COVID-19 doses, accounts for nearly two-thirds of all COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the region, Dr Singh said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
We must acknowledge India's impressive efforts and its support to other countries in providing COVID-19 vaccines at a time when vaccine supplies were a constraint globally, she added. While scaling up vaccination coverage, it is also important how it is achieved, the Regional Director said.
Many deaths from COVID-19 can be avoided if vaccinations specifically target groups such as healthcare and other frontline workers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities, she said.
WHO recommends countries prioritize primary series and booster doses to all high priority groups and expand vaccination to lower priority groups after high coverage rates are achieved in high priority groups.
Even for boosters, the focus must be on protecting the vulnerable and high-risk groups rapidly, and on a priority, Dr Singh said. While pandemic fatigue is understandable, it is not the time to be complacent, she stated.
COVID-19 is not a mild disease, even if one is fit and healthy there is no guarantee that the infection will be mild. Vaccination improves the chances of preventing a severe form of COVID-19, which could result in hospitalization, death or long-term complications.
All countries have access to multiple COVID-19 vaccines now and there is no shortage of vaccines, she said. Countries must also continue to adopt situation-specific public health and social measures, the Regional Director emphasized.Home to a quarter of the world's population with over 2 billion people, the WHO South-East Asia Region has 64.1 per cent population who have completed their COVID-19 primary vaccination series, and 71.7 per cent population who have taken at least one dose of the vaccine, the statement said. Ten of the 11 Member countries of the Region, except DPR Korea, are vaccinating their population against COVID-19, it added.