New WHO Global Evidence Review on Health and Migration underscores how the implementation of inclusive immunization plans is critical for Member States to achieve universal health coverage – World Health Organization

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A new report of the World Health Organization finds that existing policies on the inclusion of refugees and migrants in vaccine national plans and their implementation vary greatly across countries and regions globally, with disparities in access based on the legal status, age, and the context in which these populations live. The report notes that most countries do not specify a clear policy on refugee and migrant entitlement to vaccination and that where more inclusive policies exist, there are often gaps in their implementation.

Ensuring the integration of refugees and migrants into immunization policies, planning and service delivery globally – the third report of the WHO Global Evidence Review on Health and Migration (GEHM) series – identifies specific and unique barriers that refugees and migrants may face in accessing vaccines. These include administrative and policy barriers; individual-level barriers, including trust, cultural, religious, social norms and beliefs; logistic barriers such as availability and accessibility of vaccinations; information and communication barriers; and financial barriers.

Vaccination is an absolute requirement to achieve universal health coverage, and one of the world’s most cost-effective public health interventions. Yet, under immunization is still common among refugee and migrant populations, as migration and displacement may have adverse effects on the ability and motivation to be vaccinated.

WHO’s new Immunization Agenda 2030 sets out a clear vision of “a world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being”. This vitally important global health protection measure must be available to all, including refugees and migrants; therefore, equitable vaccination of refugees and migrants is a priority for WHO.

“Access to health-care services, including immunization services, is a human right for refugees and migrants. They are critical to the prevention and control of infectious-disease outbreaks, such as COVID-19, and therefore ensure health security for all,” stressed Santino Severoni, Director of the WHO Health and Migration Programme. “All countries should ensure the eligibility and non-discriminatory and equitable access to vaccines for all, including refugees and migrants, along with the host population, free from any administrative, cultural, financial, linguistic and other barriers.”
Full inclusion of refugees and migrants in global and national immunization plans and vaccinations is essential to making progress towards universal health coverage. To support countries fully integrating refugees and migrants into national immunization plans, and increase access to routine vaccines, the report provides three key areas for policy consideration:
“The Immunization Agenda 2030 is designed to motivate strategic, impact-directed action at the local, national, regional, and global levels The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful demonstration that health is not a luxury, but a human right; not a cost, but an investment; not simply an outcome of development, but the foundation of social, economic and political stability and security. Vaccines give everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential and pursue a life well-lived but can only deliver if they reach everyone who needs to be vaccinated, are distributed equitably including to refugees and migrants,” said Kate O’Brien, Director of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals (IVB).
Developed by the WHO Health and Migration Programme (PHM) and the Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals (IVB), the report is based on a scoping review of 210 relevant articles identified through searches of academic and grey literature published between 1 January 2010 and 31 October 2021, with no restrictions on language or geographical scope.

The report is part of the Global Evidence Review on Health and Migration (GEHM) series launched in June 2021. The GEHM series is a collection of global and national synthesis reviews answering the policy questions identified as priorities through summarizing the best available evidence worldwide. The series’ reports provide policy-makers with evidence-based policy considerations to help them address the health aspects of global migration. 

A high-level event was held on 24 May 2022 in Geneva on the margins of the seventy-fifth World Health Assembly with a focus on the importance of integrating refugees and migrants in immunization policies, planning, and service delivery to advance the promotion of the health of refugees and migrants.
Sponsored by Luxembourg and co-sponsored by Argentina, Colombia, Lebanon, Poland, the event flagged the relevance of collecting and utilizing accurate data as a basis for evidence-based policies, with a particular focus on immunization, and also provided an overview of the WHO Global Evidence Review on Health and Migration “Ensuring the integration of refugees and migrants in immunization policies, planning, and service delivery globally”.

The event included opening remarks by H.E. Paulette Lenert, Minister of Health, Luxembourg; H.E. Carla Vizzotti, Minister of Health, Argentina; H.E. Fernando Ruiz Gomez, Minister of Health, Colombia; H.E. Firass Abiad, Minister of Health, Lebanon; and a video message by Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO. The segment was chaired by Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General, WHO.

The high-level opening was followed by a technical session. Speakers included: Dr Santino Severoni, Director, Health and Migration Programme, WHO and Dr Ann Lindstrand, Unit Head for the Essential Programme of Immunisation, WHO; Professor Grzegorz Juszczyk, Director, National Institute of Public Health, Poland; Dr Petra Khoury, Director, Health and Care Department, IFRC; and Dr Alice Wimmer, Senior Migration Health Officer, IOM.

A meeting report is available here.
The video messages by Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO, is can be watched here.
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Ensuring the integration of refugees and migrants into immunization policies, planning and service delivery globally
Continuum of care for noncommunicable disease management during the migration cycle
Refugees and migrants in times of COVID-19: mapping trends of public health and migration policies and practices
Fact sheets

Health and Migration Programme
Refugee and Migrant Health
Vaccines and immunization
Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals
Q&A on refugee and migrant health
Setting evidence-informed norms and standards on refugee and migrant health
Promoting the health of refugees and migrants: draft global action plan, 2019–2023: report by the Director-General
Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013–2020


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