On 3-4 May 2017, the Workshop on "The role of the NITAGs in strengthening routine immunisation and new vaccine introduction: Varicella vaccine as a case study” was organised in Amman, Jordan, by the University of Jordan, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET), and NESI/University of Antwerp. Additional scientific support was received from the Ministry of Oman.
The workshop explored the current status and best practices of varicella vaccine introduction in Middle Eastern countries, gaps in information about varicella virus disease burden in the Middle East, and the role of NITAGs to strengthen routine immunisation and new and under-utilised vaccine introduction.
The objectives of the workshop included:
(a) To capacitate NITAGs in the Arab countries to make evidence-based recommendations and decisions on the introduction of new vaccines, using varicella vaccination as an example;
(b) To increase knowledge on vaccine-preventable diseases, focusing on varicella and especially on the dynamics of the disease in the Arab Region;
(c) Raise the awareness about varicella disease burden in certain risk groups such as pregnant women, the new-borns, patients who suffer from immune-deficiency and/or malignancy and the health care workers;
(d) Increase the knowledge on the high communicability and infection control aspects in healthcare facilities;
(e) To create awareness regarding varicella vaccination in the Arab region in order to reduce morbidity and mortality especially among the identified at risk groups;
(f) To develop an effective communication strategy with the public.
The workshop was attended by a total of 41 delegates, including participants and facilitators. Representatives of the Ministry of Health and NITAG chairs/members of nine countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region participated in the workshop: Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and UAE. Facilitators came from the following organisations: Damascus University (Syria), EMPHNET (Jordan), University of Jordan, Ministry of Health Oman, Robert Koch Institute (Germany), UNICEF (Jordan), University Cadi Ayyad (Morocco) and NESI/University of Antwerp (Belgium). Other delegates were from Gavi (Switzerland), University of Padjadjaran (Indonesia), Cheikh Anta Diop University (Senegal) and the vaccine industry.
The workshop brought together a unique mix of countries with and without experience in varicella vaccine introduction. Delegates from Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE shared experiences and best practices with their respective varicella vaccination programme with the other countries that have not yet introduced the varicella vaccine. During a group session, delegates shared their experience in general with new vaccine introduction and highlighted potential new vaccine introductions in their respective countries. They also discussed the role of the NITAGs in the decision-making process of new vaccine introduction.
The participation of different stakeholders in the workshop, including NITAGs, government officials, international agencies, academia and industry, resulted in high-level exchange of experiences and best practices and in building an international multi-disciplinary network of experts.