Originally established in 1985 to discuss strategies for polio eradication, PAHO’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases convened its 26th meeting on 14-16 July 2021 to provide technical recommendations for the Region of the Americas and identify research needs to strengthen immunization programs. PAHO’s Assistant Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, provided the opening remarks. In the two years since the last TAG meeting, the Region of the Americas has faced numerous public health emergencies. First, the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in the Americas reported additional setbacks in routine vaccination and surveillance performance, reaching a 10% decline in DTP3 coverage over the last 10 years.
The Region is at high risk of new and re-emerging outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). Second, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional strain on the national EPI and healthcare systems, while deflecting considerable resources to emergency response operations. The combination of public health and social measures and the administration of COVID-19 vaccines are the main tools to mitigate the pandemic and can prevent serious illness and death. PAHO’s priority is to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all people in the Region.
The Organization remains committed to providing technical assistance to Member States while they implement national COVID-19 vaccination operations. PAHO intends to use this introduction process to further strengthen national routine immunization programs. The TAG Chair, Dr. Peter Figueroa, opened the meeting by welcoming all participants: TAG members; representatives of national immunization programs; National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) presidents; Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, chair of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization; and all representatives from partner agencies. Dr. Figueroa also took the opportunity to recognize the contributions of health workers and public health officials whose efforts during the pandemic saved lives while maintaining all operations of the national immunization programs. He concluded by issuing a strong call to Member States to act against the spread of VPDs in the time of COVID-19.