Coverage for several vaccines administered to infants in the Kingdom increased significantly last year, and new vaccines are slated to be introduced to the National Immunisation Program’s (NIP) immunisation schedule by 2016, health officials confirmed yesterday.
According to new estimates released by the WHO last week, coverage for a Hepatitis B vaccination administered at birth increased from less than 60 per cent in 2013 to 87 per cent in 2014, while polio vaccination coverage rose to 98 per cent – a small gain over 2012 figures after a vaccine shortage saw the 2013 rate plummet to just 77 per cent.
“We are planning to introduce the inactivated polio vaccine . . . this October as it’s more effective in eradication than the current oral poliovirus vaccine,” said the WHO’s immunisation program technical officer, Dr Chham Samnang.
The number of children under 2 years of age who have received the required three doses of vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis – as well as a later Hepatitis B shot – was up to 97 per cent in 2014, a 5 per cent gain.
The NIP also introduced a new rubella vaccine combined with a Measles vaccine (MR) in 2014 and coverage is already at 94 per cent, WHO estimates said.
Vitamin A doses, however, were the only scheduled treatment to decline, falling to 78 per cent in 2014 from 91 per cent the previous year.
“Most children who are unimmunised and partially immunised are from ‘high-risk communities’, including mobile populations, minorities and hard-to-reach villages in the country,” Samnang said.
The NIP, along with stakeholders like the WHO and Unicef, is implementing a strategy where health workers visit these high-risk groups four times a year to administer vaccines.
Earlier this year, the NIP committed to including the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine in its schedule on February 2016 and is submitting a proposal for the vaccine alliance GAVI to finance a new pilot program for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, in the Kingdom.
“There has been a steady increase in immunisation coverage in the country according to reports . . . and it will probably continue to go up so this is a good thing for the country,” said Dr Sin Somuny, director of the umbrella NGO MEDiCAM.
NIP officials were not able to comment by press time.