More than half a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region, with more vaccine doses becoming available and countries scaling up efforts to rapidly expand coverage amid recurrent surge in COVID cases.

The WHO South-East Asia Region consists of 11 member states, including Nepal.

"Countries across the Region are making unprecedented efforts to reach more and more people with life-saving COV- ID-19 vaccines demonstrating their commitment to contain the pandemic at the earliest.

We must continue these and also, stringently implement public health and social measures," said Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

COVID vaccines are an important tool in our fight against the pandemic as they are effective, even against the Variants of Concern, in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation, and death. According to New Delhi-based Regional Office for South-East Asia, as of 6 August, 618.5 million doses have been administered.

Some 146 million people have received two vaccine doses and are fully vaccinated.

The maximum – 489 million doses – have been administered in India, which reached 8.6 million people on day one of its reinvigorated campaign in June. Nepal has vaccinated more than 70 per cent of its health and frontline workers and elderly population with at least one dose of the vaccine.

Indonesia, which was the first in the Region to launch COVID-19 vaccination drive, has administered 71 million doses, followed by 18 million doses in Thailand. Sri Lanka has administered 13 million doses and has been consistently reaching out to 500,000 people per day with COVID-19 vaccination, recently.

Bangladesh is scaling up vaccination, and also preparing to vaccinate Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazaar. Bhutan has achieved a coverage of 70 per 100 population with the first dose and 62 per 100 population with two doses of COV- ID-19 vaccine, the highest in the Region so far. Maldives has vaccinated half its population with two doses and nearly 60 per 100 coverage with one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Thailand has vaccinated 84 per cent of their health workforce.

Timor-Leste has vaccinated almost a quarter of its 100 population with one dose.

Commendable efforts are being made by countries. With more doses available in recent weeks through COVAX, all possible efforts need to be made to expand COVID-19 vaccination coverage even further, the regional director said adding that nearly 90 per cent of all vaccine doses available in the Region had been utilised, says the WHO.

Countries in the Region are administering Astra Zeneca, Covaxin, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Sputnik V and Pfizer vaccines following emergency use authorisation being granted by their national regulatory authorities. Countries in the Region are striving to achieve WHO's goal of having 10 per cent of the population fully vaccinated by September-end, 40 per cent by the end of this year and 70 per cent by mid- 2022," Regional Director Dr Kshetrapal Singh said, adding that it was heartening to see the push for vaccination at a time when countries were battling surge in virus cases.

This is also the time to closely evaluate vaccination coverage data to see who is being left out, where and why. Some people may still not be aware of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, some may not be convinced, and some may have concerns. There could also be issues of accessibility, she said "We need tailored communication approach, just as we do for childhood immunisation, and work closely with communities for uptake of vaccines and successful implementation of public health and social measures," said Dr Khetrapal Singh.

Vaccines are lifesaving but on their own, they are not enough. Implementation of public health and social measures are equally important, she emphasised. "Even after taking both doses of the COV- ID vaccine, people must continue to wear mask, wash hands, maintain social distancing, avoid crowds etc. We need to 'do it all', especially when most people are not vaccinated and COVID is widespread.

This is the only way to curtail transmission of the virus that continues to overwhelm our health systems and impact lives and livelihoods," the regional director said.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 7 2021, of The Himalayan Times.