World Immunization Week 2017: #VaccinesWork

I start by commending the decision of the Ministry of Health to introduce MR (Measles and Rubella) vaccine instead of Measles alone vaccine in routine immunization at 9 months of age during the World Immunization Week. With MMR provided at 18 months of age and MR vaccine provided during the campaign, two doses of Measles and Rubella containing vaccines has been ensured to all newborns and all Maldivians. The World Immunization Week from 24-30 April every year is an opportunity to raise awareness about the critical importance of full immunization throughout life and also its role in achieving the 2030 sustainable Development Goals.

The theme of the World Immunization Week 2017 is #VaccinesWork- aimed to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against various diseases. Immunization saves millions of lives and is widely recognized as one of the most successful and cost effective health interventions. One dollar investment gives an approx. USD 10 return. The vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 and many millions more lives were protected from illness. Every year immunization averts 2 to 3 million death from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.

When all the people in the community take vaccine, it has a community protective effect, also called the herd immunization. Such herd immunity protect infants who are too young to receive their vaccinations, older adults at risk of serious diseases and people who take medication that lowers their immune system. When immunization rates are high, the wider community is protected.

The Maldives immunization program has made remarkable progress over the years. From the inception of the immunization program in 1976, continuous effort and commitment to train health workers across the country on various aspects of immunization and surveillance including cold chain management, vaccine management and strengthening laboratory network are the hallmark of successful program of Maldives. Maldives Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (MTAGI) - an independent group; plays an active role in advising Ministry of Health to take evidence based policy decisions

The country has been certified as having eliminated Polio and Neonatal tetanus. Vaccine preventable diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis are rare and almost non-existent. With the concerted efforts of many health professionals, community engagement, coupled with increased public awareness, high immunization coverage for routine vaccines such as BCG, Polio, HepB, Pentavalent, (DPT, HepB, Hib), Measles, MMR and TD vaccines has been maintained for decades. The travel vaccine program continues to provide Meningitis, Influenza and Polio vaccines to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. Yellow fever vaccines are provided to those travelling to yellow fever endemic countries. In 2016, switch from trivalent Oral Polio Vaccine to bivalent Oral Polio vaccine and introduction of inactivated polio vaccine has been aligned with the Global Polio End Game strategy. Efforts have also ensured introduction of booster dose of DPT to children during 4 years of age. The introduction of this booster dose is also expected in 2017.

Let me share a few details especially about Rubella infection during pregnancy which may result in Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). This means she has a 90% chance of passing the virus on to her fetus which may result in birth defects with Deafness being the most common, but CRS can also cause defects in the eyes, heart, and brain and at times deaths. To avoid such risk, I encourage everyone in the age group of 15-25 years to take MR vaccine especially those who could not have taken the MR vaccine in the Maves-Jahaffin Campaign. To provide another opportunity for taking vaccines to such people; the Ministry of Health is offering extension of the campaign starting on 30 April 2017. Taking the vaccine will not only be for your individual benefit but also enable future generation to be born normal and live a happy and productive life.

Let us continue to work collectively to ensure the eliminated diseases do not establish transmission in the country again. I commend the dedication of health staff, past and present who have contributed effortlessly to ensure the Maldives immunization program remains as one of the strongest immunization programs.

In line with the theme of the World Immunization week #Vaccinework; let me reiterate that currently available vaccines are safe, effective and are recommended based on the scientific evidence, are not contaminated with porcine contents and are best buys to protect people especially children and keep the nation healthy.

#VaccinesWork to save lives, #VaccinesWork to fight diseases, #VaccinesWork so leave no one behind. #VaccinesWork and build a secure world and truly #VaccinesWork!

Editor's Note: Dr Arvind Mathur is the WHO Representative to the Republic of Maldives.