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Lao PDR Prepares for Roll-out of COVID-19 Vaccines

The Government of Lao PDR, through the Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a nationwide table-top exercise on 25 and 26 February, chaired by the Vice Minister of Health, Dr. Phouthone Muangpak, to discuss the implementation of the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Participants, including representatives from different line ministries, provincial health departments and development partners, discussed vaccination delivery strategies, reviewed vaccine acceptance and uptake, vaccine safety monitoring including management of Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) and identified main challenges for vaccination deployment and implementation in order to enhance the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan.

Dr. Phouthone Muangpak, Vice Minister to the Ministry of Health, thanked the health staff and development partners for their active participation and said: “COVID-19 has impacted our lives. Transmission is still ongoing, affecting some countries more severely than others. The vaccine is an important tool that will be used together with other preventive measures in the fight against the pandemic.”

U.S. Ambassador to Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Dr. Peter M. Haymond; WHO Representative, Dr. Mark Jacobs; UNICEF Representative, Dr. Pia Rebello Britto; and the Chair of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), Associate Professor Dr. Khampe Phongsavath attended the workshop. They highlighted the importance of this table-top exercise to prepare the provinces for the nationwide rollout of the vaccine.

U.S. Ambassador Haymond said, “ The United States is pleased to have been able to provide over $7.5 million USD in COVID-19 related assistance to the Lao PDR since the beginning of the global outbreak through the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (USDTRA) as part of our long-term work in the health sector.  For fifteen years, USCDC has collaborated with the Ministry of Health on influenza prevention and control, which led to the establishment of infrastructure for surveillance, rapid response, testing, and data collection.  This health infrastructure was in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been well adapted by the Ministry of Health to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Dr. Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to Lao People’s Democratic Republic said, “Achieving high coverage of these vaccines, particularly amongst identified priority groups, is fundamental.  The vaccines will only gradually become available, and so to get the most benefit from the supplies we do receive we need to ensure that we protect our health and other essential service providers, and people at highest risk of serious disease, first.”

“As the vaccine rollout continues globally, each country will face many challenges in deploying the vaccines in their local context, including Lao PDR. It is therefore important that we are well-prepared for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines in the country to ensure that we are able to deliver the vaccines to the population when they arrive – this is especially the case right now as Lao PDR is set to receive 480,000 Astra Zeneca vaccines, procured by UNICEF, with the first batch comprising of 132,000 vaccines arriving to the country in March,” said Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative to Lao PDR.

Pic 1

WHO Technical Officer Ms. Souliya Channavong (standing) facilitates a group discussion. ©WHO/Vannaseng Insal

As per the NDVP, the Government of Lao PDR has adopted a phased approach to vaccinate the population. COVID-19 vaccines will be provided first to those at highest risk of getting the disease, such as frontline healthcare workers, essential workers at points of entry, and those who have a risk factor for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, such as elderly people and people with underlying health conditions. 

Thanks to data from clinical trials and robust review from approving government bodies and WHO, we know that the science behind the coronavirus vaccines is safe and effective. However, while the vaccine is an important part of COVID-19 protection, it is critical to continue practicing effective public health measures like physical distancing, handwashing with soap, wearing masks, and physical distancing. 

Pic 2Dr. Chanthavong Sawatchirang, Deputy Director of National Immunization Programme explains about the scenario to the team. ©WHO/Vannaseng Insal