It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the webinar today focused on Harnessing the power of the pandemic response to take immunization into a new era. The COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in the largest backsliding in history of childhood immunizations with an increase in the number of never immunized children from 13 million to 18 million between 2019-2021. As such the theme of the World Immunization Week is quite appropriate –the big catch up’’-which is a call to intensify efforts to catch up those who have missed out on vaccinations during the past few years.
While even before the COVID 19 pandemic, immunization coverage rates had stagnated for over a decade, the pandemic worsened the situation. The number of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks have increased with over 25 large and disruptive measles outbreaks in 2022 pointing to increased immunity gaps. In addition, there have also been mpox, cholera outbreaks among others contributing to multiple crises and further strains on health systems and human resources. A few countries were able to maintain pre pandemic coverage levels while a few even saw improvements. We can learn from these and how they leveraged the pandemic responses to achieve this.
At the same time immunization programs have worked with many cross sector stakeholders to provide 13 billion doses of COVID 19 vaccinations around the globe. Reaching high risk populations including elderly with COVID 19 vaccinations have required major program investments and innovations. As COVID 19 vaccinations were rolled out several systems components were strengthened–these were mainly the digital information systems and remote capacity building, integrated service delivery, cross sector coordination and supply logistics and cold chain. USAID has played a major role in global vaccine equity and access to COVID 19 vaccines through contributions to COVAX, working closely with other partners, and partnership with over a 100 countries to strengthen their country readiness and delivery including technical assistance in multiple areas such as digital information demand and social behaviors change, systems, and supply chain and logistics . USAID is supporting partner countries in the integration of COVID 19 into immunization, Primary Health Care and routine systems.
The pandemic response has come with opportunities to strengthen the immunization, primary health care and cross sector coordination for lifecourse vaccinations. As we move into a new era in immunization, supporting countries to catch up missed vaccination while not losing sight of reaching beyond pre-COVID levels, we want to highlight what we have learned through COVID and how it can be applied to Routine Immunization and use forward looking solutions to make immunization systems more resilient and better prepare for and respond to future pandemics.
Today, we will hear first hand from partner countries and states and about the work M-RITE has done with partnership, localization, equity in immunization, and strengthening of health systems; and learning more how they are reaching those hard to reach populations using innovative approaches to community engagement, working through local NGOs with deep community networks; and how the power of the pandemic response can take immunization into a new era.