Immunisation managers: learning from each other

Immunisation-managersA new organisation will offer vaccination programme managers a chance to learn how immunisation systems work in other countries.

The newly-established International Association for Immunization Managers (IAIM) will also feature:

• An online forum where programme managers can share ideas, experiences and best practices
• An international exchange programme for immunisation managers
• Conferences and regional meetings on immunisation systems

The association will be managed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute and is supported by a five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The IAIM’s objective is to help achieve national, regional and international immunisation goals, including those in the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), by “fostering forward-thinking and superior management of immunisation programmes”.

Peter Carrasco, Director of the IAIM Secretariat at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, told Vaccines Today that the new association would give members a chance to share experiences, access experts, training and publications.

Scroll down for transcript of full interview with Peter Carrasco

Peer exchange

He said the IAIM has two core objectives: to build and support networks of immunisation managers, and to develop technical and leadership skills within that community.

“To meet these objectives, we will seek to place immunisation managers in countries with well-developed immunisation programmes if this is what the requesting immunisation manager needs to solve, innovate and develop his skills better,” he said.

But this will also work in reverse: immunisation managers in countries with well-developed health systems will also learn from countries with experience of mass immunisation drives against polio and measles.

Carrasco said that countries with strong routine immunisation systems are not necessarily prepared to cope with a major flu pandemic which would require population-wide campaigns.

Key players

Efforts to improve immunisation coverage often focus on the role of health professionals, building public trust or accessibility to vaccines, but the IAIM puts the spotlight on immunisation programme managers who typically operate behind the scenes.

Prof David Salisbury, President of the IAIM’s Governing Council and Director of Immunisation in the UK, said programme managers play a key role in making immunisation work.

“How well an immunisation manager performs his or her job can make the difference in whether the immunisation programme succeeds; yet these professionals often are not provided with the opportunities for training, peer-to-peer discussion and exchange and skill-building that they need to advance immunisation programmes,” he said. “We now have an international association that can equip them with the right tools and professional network for the job.”

The Sabin Vaccine Institute serves as the Secretariat for IAIM and is responsible for executing its day-to-day operations.

“Sabin is proud to serve as secretariat for this new and important association,” said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, Executive Vice President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “Immunisation has been and remains one of the best public health solutions to save and improve lives, but there are many unmet needs. IAIM provides a unique forum to facilitate the vital communication and innovation needed to close these gaps.”

Transcript of interview with Peter Carrasco, Director of the IAIM Secretariat at the Sabin Vaccine Institute

Vaccines Today: From how many countries will the new IAIM draw its members?

Peter Carrasco: IAIM hopes to draw members from all countries. It hopes to draw immunisation managers from the national and sub-national levels that work anywhere in the health system.

Vaccines Today: The Gates Foundation provided funding for the first five years. Is there a particular emphasis on developing countries?

Peter Carrasco: No, the grant from the Gates Foundation does not place particular emphasis on developing countries. But IAIM members will look to draw lessons learned, good management practices and innovative approaches from each other. We will encourage poor performing countries to draw lessons learned, good management practices, and innovative approaches from high-performing countries that are applicable to their context.

Vaccines Today: How will the organisation work in practice? Will there be regular meetings, online and offline?

Peter Carrasco: The Association is governed by an ad hoc Governing Council composed of 13 persons. Four officers have been elected by the 13 members of the GC: President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. The 13 members represent every region of world.

The Governing Council, which is charged with running the affairs of the IAIM, will hold two meetings per year – one in person and the other one via teleconference. The Secretariat, which is housed at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the association.

There are two conferences for the general membership scheduled to be held in the period 2013-2017. We are working on the dates and place for the first conference. The Association will have 12 regional meetings with its members for the period 2014-2017.

The GC and the Secretariat will conduct an online meeting with the membership in 2014. There will be additional online meetings as necessary.

Vaccines Today: Could you say a little more about the online system for sharing information and best practice? Will it be a members-only platform or will some material be publicly available?

Peter Carrasco: The public will have access to some of the pages on the IAIM website. However, only members will have access to the core informational products and the discussion forum. We have designed the IAIM website to be one of the major platforms for providing Association benefits.

The website will offer a discussion forum for members to exchange their experiences and share the best practices, permitting each member to develop or adapt an approach to improve programme performance. It also provides access to the last news and information in the field of immunisation, access to experts for obtaining the best advice, as well as access to tools, trainings and publications.

Vaccines Today: Do you foresee exchange programmes which would place programme managers in organisations/countries with well-developed immunisation systems?

Peter Carrasco: Most definitely, IAIM has, as two of its core objectives: To build and support international and regional networks of immunisation managers, and to develop technical and leadership skills within the immunisation programme manager community.

To meet these objectives IAIM will seek to place immunisation managers in countries with well-developed immunisation programmes if this is what the requesting immunisation manager needs to solve, innovate and develop his skills better. This is also true the other way around. Many immunisation managers with well-developed programmes can learn from countries that have great experience in carrying out national vaccination campaigns against polio and measles for instance.

From my experience in the last influenza pandemic – H1N1 in 2009 – I was able to observe that had this pandemic been severe and the vaccine industry was able to produce the required billions of doses, many of the industrialised countries with well-developed health systems would have faced great challenges in vaccinating the thousands of people that would have shown up at the front doors of their clinics.

Vaccines Today: Along with sourcing and supplying vaccines, you mention the importance of communication with the public. Would you foresee an opportunity for producing best-practice advice on this topic or is it something that would need to be country-specific?

Peter Carrasco: There many lesson learned from the last influenza pandemic and those lessons learned from over 36 years of rolling national immunisation programmes that confirm that advocacy and communicating with the public has to be country-specific and within each country a message developed in the capital city needs to be tailored to local conditions and language. However, this being said, the Association membership, if it desires, can issue broad statements urging all political leaders – from governments to parliamentarians to health leaders – to advocate on a particular issue. These groups are, after all, part of the public, no?

Vaccines Today: Are there other ways of raising the standing of programme managers in their own countries, such as accredited courses/diplomas or membership/fellowships of the IAIM?

Peter Carrasco: Most definitely. The ad hoc Governing Council and the IAIM Secretariat will identify possible accredited courses or other trainings for members to access for improving the management and leadership skills, including the knowledge of its members.

In addition, at the meeting of the Association we are planning to bring in experts to strengthen the management and leadership skills of the IAIM membership. We also will provide links to courses, live webinars, e-training materials offered by our stakeholders.

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