WHO releases global update of COVID-19 vaccination strategy to reach the vulnerable

  • The global spread of vaccination against COVID-19 is the largest and fastest in history, but many of those most at risk remain unprotected – only 28% of older people and 37% of health workers in countries with low incomes have received their primary course of vaccines and most have not received booster doses.
  • Healthcare workers, the over 60s and other at-risk groups should be reached as priorities on the way to the 70% coverage target.
  • The WHO strategy update raises targets to vaccinate 100% of health workers and 100% of the highest-risk populations with both primary and booster doses to reduce deaths, keep societies open and ensure functioning of economies while transmission continues.
  • Although vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not significantly reduced the spread of COVID-19. Innovation is needed to develop new vaccines that significantly reduce transmission, are easier to administer, and provide broader and longer-lasting protection.

WHO today published an update of the Global Vaccination Strategy against COVID-19 in response to the spread of Omicron subvariants, advances in vaccine evidence and lessons from the global vaccination programme.

In the first year on the market, the COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have saved 19.8 million lives. Through unprecedentedly large and rapid global deployments, more than 12 billion doses have been administered globally, in almost every country in the world, reaching an average of 60% of the country’s population.

However, only 28% of the older population and 37% of health workers in low-income countries have been vaccinated with their primary series. 27 of the WHO Member States have not yet started a booster or additional dose program, 11 of which are low-income countries.

The strategy aims to use prime and booster doses to reduce deaths and severe illness to protect health systems, societies and economies. On the way to achieving the 70% vaccination target, countries should prioritize achieving the core targets of vaccinating 100% of healthcare workers and 100% of the most vulnerable groups, including the older population (over 60s) and those who are immunocompromised or have underlying conditions.

“Even when 70% vaccination coverage is achieved, if significant numbers of health workers, the elderly and other at-risk groups remain unvaccinated, deaths will continue, health systems will remain under pressure and global recovery will be at risk,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Vaccinating all those most at risk is the single best way to save lives, protect health systems and keep societies and economies open.”

To ensure that vaccines reach the highest priority groups, the strategy emphasizes the need to measure progress in vaccinating these groups and develop targeted approaches to reach them. Approaches include using local data and engaging communities to support vaccine demand, building systems to vaccinate adults, and reaching more displaced people through humanitarian response.

The strategy also aims to accelerate the development and ensure equitable access to improved vaccines to significantly reduce transmission as a top priority, but also to achieve durable, broadly protective immunity.

Current vaccines are designed to prevent serious illness and death, which they have succeeded in doing, saving millions of lives. However, they did not significantly reduce transmission. As the virus continues to circulate widely, new and dangerous variants emerge, including some that reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. It is fundamental that we continue to invest in research and development to make vaccines, such as nasal sprays, more effective and easier to administer.

Other vital actions that need to be taken include: equitable distribution of production capacity across regions and support for strong vaccine delivery programs. WHO will continue to collaborate with COVAX partners and the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (CoVDP) to support countries with implementation, such as by bundling COVID-19 vaccination with other health interventions.

Note to editors:

The Global Vaccination Strategy for COVID-19 in a Changing World: July 2022 Update can be read in full here.

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