The COVID-19 outbreak created a public health emergency in almost all countries. Some countries mobilized most of the available resources for the public health systems to responed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries even had to reduce and shut down a majority of public health services including routine immunization.
Such circumstances present themselves as an issue of concern. With EMPHNET being an active partner in the area’s immunization in the Region, it opted to bring such issues to the forefront as part of its WEBi Series. Thus, on July 7, 2020, EMPHNET launched its second webinar in EMPHNET WEBi Series and the first in its webinar series on immunization titled “Countries’ Strategies to Maintain Immunization Achievements During the Pandemic while Adapting to Post Pandemic.”
The session hosted two senior international immunization experts together with two EPI managers from the region. Presenting experts included: Director, Global Immunization Division, US CDC Dr. W. William Schluter; Co-Director, Center for Global Child Health, Toronto and Founding Director, Institute for Global Health and Development, The Aga Khan University in Pakistan Prof. Zulfiqar Bhutta; National Vaccination Officer, EPI, Egypt Dr. Ehab Basha; and National EPI Manager in Iraq Dr. Firas Jabbar Al-Mossawi. Furthermore, the session was facilitated by Communicable Diseases Adviser to Health Affairs, Oman, and Ex-SAGE Member Dr. Salah Al Awaidy.
Dr. Salah Al Awaidy started the session by welcoming the speakers and attendees and placing the webinar theme into context. He then introduced the experts present in the session, while also handing the floor to each one of them to present.
In his presentation, Dr. Schluter spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on the progress toward the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) indicators and the anticipation when the world moves towards adoption of the Immunization Agenda 2030. He described the key GVAP indicators and their progress. Finally, he presented the (IA2030) and mentioned that there may be opportunities hidden in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second presenter, Prof. Bhutta, talked about the many consequences of COVID-19 on children. He also stated that the direct effects on children are minimal. However, indirect consequences like excess poverty, the educationcrisis, the threats to children health and survival like the interruption of immunization systems and issues related to children’s nutrition and safety. He then explained how immunization inequities are not new by presenting immunization trends data from Pakistan from 1990 to 2013 . From another angle, he shed light on zero dose children who have not received a single immunization dose. Before closing, Prof. Bhutta emphasized the role of the community and the importance of community engagement as part of the COVID-19 response.
In the presentation that followed, Dr. Basha stated that in January 2020, Egypt conducted a risk assessment to identify the potential risk of COVID-19 on the immunization program. Dr. Basha mentioned that Egypt started to implement a risk mitigation plan. He then introduced the actions implemented to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on immunization. Dr. Basha ended his presentation by mentioning the challenges and proposed needed support from partners.
The final presenter, Dr. Al-Mossawi, started his presentation by giving a short description of Iraq’s demography . He explained that response measures to COVID-19 resulted in a drop in immunization coverage. He further stated that Iraqi MoH developed its immunization response plan to improve immunization coverage while noting that vaccine availability remains an issue in the country. He described the immunization services continuity plan and summarized its objectives. Finally, Dr. Al-Mossawi referred to the needed support from partners.
181 persons attended the webinar. Two Q&A sessions were facilitated by Dr. Al Awaidy, the first session was held after the first two presentations and the second after the final two.