The mandate of the Department of Vaccines
and Biologicals (V&B) is predominantly that of building routine and
supplementary immunization services, supporting laboratory networks, and
to assuring a sufficient supply of potent vaccines. The programme is not primarily
geared to respond to emergencies.
Nonetheless, V&B may be called upon
to react to two different types of emergency situations:
- an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable
disease included in the immunization schedule,
- a man-made or natural disaster which
is the potential setting for an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable
In the first category, an outbreak of a
vaccine-preventable target disease can generally be considered a failure
(for whatever reason) of the existing infrastructure of a country. It may
indicate a failure to have achieved sufficiently high immunization
coverage levels to prevent the outbreak from occurring.
In the second category, extremes of
overcrowding alter the transmissibility of diseases and increase the
likelihood of an outbreak. Urgent action may be needed to prevent an
outbreak of, for instance, measles or cholera, or to react quickly
following reports of an outbreak starting in a camp situation.
Although V&B focuses primarily on
routine services, there are certain functions undertaken by the programme
either on a regular basis or from time to time which are either preparing
for emergencies or responding to them. While any target disease could
potentially create an emergency situation, diphtheria, measles,
meningitis, polio, neonatal tetanus and yellow fever have all generated an
emergency for the programme over the last decade.