Burmaa Alexander

Mongolia is known for its endless blue skies, rich culture, nomadic lifestyle, and wide array of scenic landscapes. From snow-covered mountains in the north and west to eastern lakes and valleys to grassy upland steppes in the south where nomads herd their cattle, the country has many attributes and has now achieved another distinction: high COVID-19 vaccination coverage. 

A New York Times headline from May 2021 said it all: “Countries Are Scrambling for Vaccines. Mongolia Has Plenty.” Although the country of three million, tucked between Russia and China, is a middle-income country, it has outpaced many wealthier countries in vaccinating its people. As of November 2021, 65% of Mongolians were fully vaccinated, achieving higher vaccination rates than countries like the U.S., Austria, Israel and Greece.

A key reason for the success is Mongolia’s long-time investment in fighting influenza and the hard work of passionate public health leaders like Dr. Burmaa Alexander, the head of the country’s National Influenza Surveillance Division in the National Center for Communicable Diseases.


As an influenza champion for Mongolia, she has devoted her career to advocating for increased public awareness on the impact of influenza as well as increased government investment in seasonal influenza vaccines, particularly in children aged 2 to 5, a population often at increased risk of complications from influenza. Her commitment to growing the national influenza vaccine program often takes her to communities where she provides supervision on various program evaluation projects.

In addition, Alexander seeks to raise the next generation of leaders and flu champions and actively mentors her staff, equipping them with the tools they will need to lead the program in the future. 

Mongolia is a country partner of The Task Force’s Partnership for Influenza Vaccine Introduction (PIVI) program. Funded in part by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PIVI helps countries create sustainable, seasonal influenza vaccination programs in low- and middle-income countries to prepare for, prevent, and control outbreaks. Working closely with Alexander, PIVI has partnered with Mongolia since 2016 and the country is on track to transition to a fully country-sustained national influenza vaccination program in 2022.

In part due to its strengths around influenza vaccination deployment, Mongolia has been able to tailor many of the components of the influenza program to support COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution. The team’s ability to quickly pivot their vaccination program in the middle of the pandemic illustrates the importance of having systems in place that are ready to respond to any emergent threat. 

While Mongolia has been largely successful in battling COVID-19, the country has still faced challenges.

“We needed more human resources, medical equipment, reagents and medicine,” said Alexander.

The lack of health workers and equipment to care for patients suffering from COVID-19 has been difficult to manage at times. Alexander said this has created anxiety among many Mongolians in seeking care both for COVID-19 and their willingness to get other vaccinations – like influenza – as they know about the risks of illness and death when contracting COVID-19. 

Despite the challenges, Alexander stays focused on her community and its patients. She describes her responsibility succinctly: “to save lives and to respond quickly.”

All photos courtesy of Burmaa Alexander.

All photos courtesy of Burmaa Alexander.

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