The World Health Organization (WHO) published an update to the Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy in response to the spread of Omicron subvariants, advances in vaccine evidence, and lessons from the global vaccination program.
- The global COVID-19 vaccination rollout is the biggest and fastest in history but many of those at greatest risk remain unprotected – only 28% of older people and 37% of health care workers in low-income countries have received their primary course of vaccines and most have not received booster doses.
- Health care workers, over 60s and other at-risk groups must be reached as priorities on the way to reaching the 70% coverage target.
- WHO’s strategy update elevates the targets of vaccinating 100% of health care workers and 100% of the highest risk populations with both primary and booster doses, with the aim of reducing deaths, keeping societies open and ensuring economies function as transmission continues.
- While vaccines have saved countless lives, they have not substantially reduced the spread of COVID-19. Innovation is needed to develop new vaccines that substantially reduce transmission, are easier to administer and give broader and longer-lasting protection.
In the first year of rollouts, COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have saved 19.8 million lives. Through unprecedently large and rapid rollouts worldwide, over 12 billion doses have been administered globally, in nearly every country in the world, resulting in countries reaching 60% of their populations on average.
Yet only 28% of older populations and 37% of health care workers in low-income countries have been vaccinated with their primary series. 27 of WHO's Member States have not yet started a booster or additional dose program, 11 of which are low-income countries.
The strategy aims to use primary and booster doses to reduce deaths and severe disease, in order to protect health systems, societies and economies. On the way to reaching the 70% vaccination target, countries should prioritize achieving the underpinning targets of vaccinating 100% of health care workers and 100% of the most vulnerable groups, including older populations (over 60s) and those who are immunocompromised or have underlying conditions.
“Even where 70% vaccination coverage is achieved, if significant numbers of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups remain unvaccinated, deaths will continue, health systems will remain under pressure and the 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 vaccines reach the highest priority groups, the strategy emphasizes the need for measuring progress in vaccinating these groups and developing targeted approaches to reach them. Approaches include using local data and engaging communities to sustain demand for vaccines, building systems for vaccinating adults, and reaching more displaced people through humanitarian response.