As COVID-19 continues to spread in most countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region, the World Health Organization has called for stronger collective efforts to curtail the virus transmission, urging the countries to plan for efficient roll out of vaccines as soon as they are available.
"Like the rest of the world, the region continues to be at risk. To stop the spread of COVID-19 virus, we need to do it all continued strong leadership, robust public health measures, clear communication and an engaged, empowered and enabled population," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
In a communication to member countries, the regional director said the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine has gathered momentum.
In anticipation of development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, countries should be prepared with an efficient and coordinated strategy and plan for roll-out of vaccination, she said.
Vaccine availability is likely to be limited initially, hence will be important to clearly identify goals of national vaccination strategy, Singh added.
In the spirit of promoting fair and equitable access to the vaccines across all countries, WHO is proposing that countries prioritise at-risk population as they develop in-country vaccination strategies. Available vaccines should first be provided to priority populations and then expanded to others, she said.
"The COVID-19 vaccination should aim at minimising the societal and economic impact by reducing deaths caused by the disease," Singh said.
Listing out nine priority areas for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and roll-out, the regional director said, a national level coordination committee would be needed to oversee vaccination; an expedited regulatory pathway for approval of new vaccine; a technical advisory group to recommend prioritisation of risk groups; protocols on infection prevention and control measures to minimise exposure during immunisation sessions; training plans for vaccine introduction; and monitoring systems to measure coverage, acceptability and disease surveillance.
Countries would also need to strengthen vaccine cold chain systems, ensure trained staff perform vigilance activities for vaccine safety and importantly, a vaccine demand generation plan to instill confidence and acceptance among people for the new vaccine.
Ensuring continued WHO support, Sigh said, "Together we must continue to strengthen the COVID-19 response by aggressively applying the basic public health measures, and also looking ahead and ensuring that we make full use of emerging tools to control spread, save lives and minimise impact.
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