Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Maternal influenza immunization project: Building an immunization platform in conjunction with antenatal care in low and middle-income countries

Executive Summary

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a position paper on influenza vaccination stating that pregnant women should have the highest priority for seasonal influenza vaccination in countries considering the initiation or expansion of influenza immunization programs. The recommendation that pregnant women be prioritized in immunization programs was based on a review of influenza burden of disease, vaccine safety, and vaccine performance by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE).

Recent clinical trial data demonstrating that immunization of pregnant women can confer protection against influenza to newborns during their first six months of life provides further evidence in favor this strategy. Despite the WHO recommendation, maternal influenza immunization has not been incorporated into routine immunization programs in many low-resource countries. A 2012 consultation of experts by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) identified operational challenges and knowledge gaps hindering implementation of maternal influenza immunization programs.

In response to this consultation, BMGF awarded a grant to WHO and PATH to execute the Maternal Influenza Immunization Project. The Project will address some of the remaining obstacles to implementing seasonal influenza immunization programs for pregnant women and data gaps about potential vaccine impact.

The Project aims to contribute to the reduction of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality by creating an enabling environment that allows countries to make decisions about the introduction of seasonal influenza immunization programs for pregnant women and to develop options for a year-round supply of vaccine by providing technical guidance on delivery strategies and approaches to monitor program implementation and performance.

The Project will address uncertainties around routine maternal influenza immunization implementation, and it will pave the way for expanded maternal immunization programs which may include future vaccines still in development.