Implementation research in immunization
What is implementation research?
Many definitions exist for operations and implementation research. These two terms are often used interchangeably or at least overlap in their scope. The term translational research is sometimes used to define research required to inform policy decisions or introduce vaccines or other products. Here, implementation research is defined as that area of research devoted to understanding the bottlenecks around introduction and scaling up implementation of a proven public health intervention and finding practical solutions to overcome such barriers or constraints.
Why the need to accelerate immunization implementation research?
With the launch of the GAVI Alliance in 2000, the world’s poorest nations had an opportunity to access vaccines that hitherto were unavailable to them. With GAVI’s support, most countries have added hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccines, and are now introducing rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines as well. In addition, several countries have developed plans to introduce human papillomavirus vaccine. Vaccines of particular relevance to certain regions, such as conjugate meningococcal A and yellow fever in Africa, and Japanese encephalitis in Asia, are now included in many national immunization programmes in these regions.
However, immunization programmes in many countries face challenges, not only to introduce new vaccines, but to achieve and sustain high coverage for those already in the programme. Such challenges are not only technical but also include managerial, systems, socio-behavioural, financial, and communications bottlenecks. Immunization Implementation research identifies these challenges to enable the use evidence-based policies and practices, be it to introduce a new vaccine or to scale up coverage of existing vaccines in national immunization programmes.
WHO activities in immunization implementation research
WHO’s key role is to set the agenda and priorities for implementation research related to vaccines and vaccination. To this end, an ad hoc Technical Working Group is developing a global prioritized immunization implementation research agenda. The main strategy of the Organization is to provide the leadership to bring together research donors, research communities and national immunization programmes to solve local problems with local solutions. The WHO Initiative for Vaccine Research (IVR), in close collaboration with partners, will provide technical assistance to strengthen country capacity to carry out implementation research, monitor and map implementation research activities, and provide a platform for researchers to share their results and examine their relevance to global immunization policies and practices.