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% of their total population with all primary doses of the vaccine by June end, and the Region is again witnessing a surge in cases.
"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 of WHO South-East Asia, in a press release on Friday.
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The Regional Director congratulated countries that have achieved the target of 70% of their population completing primary series of COVID-19 vaccination. Bhutan has 89% population vaccinated with all primary doses, Thailand 79.9%, Maldives 70.4%, and Bangladesh 70.2%. Nepal with 69.3% is close to achieving the global June end vaccination goal.
"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. 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,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
"While scaling up vaccination coverage, it is also important how it is achieved. 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 explained.
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 Khetrapal Singh added.
While pandemic fatigue is understandable, it is not the time to be complacent. We must continue to increase the momentum for vaccination, accelerate implementation of COVID-19 vaccination strategies by removing all barriers including addressing lower demand for vaccines from the populations as a result of a lower risk perception due to Omicron variant.
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.
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% population who have completed their COVID-19 primary vaccination series, and 71.7% population who have taken at least one dose of the vaccine.
Ten of the 11 Member countries of the Region, except DPR Korea, are vaccinating their population against COVID-19.