Vaccination Week in the Americas, which runs through this Saturday, is now in full swing, with thousands of health workers mobilized throughout the Region.
Reports from the countries say that the immunization campaign has reached some of the most remote areas, including border regions and indigenous communities. The reports also show that the vaccination efforts, which began April 24, are reaching the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
The goal of the 35 nations participating in Vaccination Week in the Americas, which is being coordinated by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is to immunize some 40 million people, especially those children who historically have not been vaccinated or whose vaccinations have not been completed.
Some examples from country reports include:
• In Pando, a Bolivian province that borders with Brazil and Peru, the immunization campaign has focused on children up to 1 year of age and on women between the ages of 16 and 20. The latter are being vaccinated against rubella and measles. “This is a historic event in which three nations have joined to encourage the prevention of disease among their people,” said Peru’s Health Minister, Dr. Pilar Mazzetti Soler. “Immunizing the young women of today will protect the children of tomorrow,” she added.
• In the Peruvian capital of Lima, immunization sites are not only found in health care centers and hospitals, but also in 16 supermarkets and four stores of the Wong grocery chain. Medical tents of the Health Ministry have been set up in the latter.
• In Guatemala, the nation’s 900 health care and emergency centers are offering vaccines free of charge. Immunizations are also being done at private homes, farms and mobile units set up along highways, road crossings, transportation hubs and public parks. The campaign has also been carried to remote regions of 87 municipalities with difficult access to health services, extreme poverty and children with a high risk of malnutrition.
• All across Central America, voluntary helpers are spreading the message – in 23 languages, including Maya, Garifuna, Xinca and Spanish -- about the importance of immunization and asking families to vaccinate their children.
PAHO director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago launched Vaccination Week in the Americas last Saturday from Haiti, one of the organization’s priority nations because of its extreme poverty and health care needs. Roses traveled from the capital of Port-au-Prince to Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic where she met with her UNICEF counterpart, Nils Kastberg, who arrived from the Dominican Republic, and the health ministers of both countries. The PAHO director personally vaccinated a number of children, called on parents to immunize their children and asked the international community to help in Haiti’s recovery.
As part of this unprecedented, Hemispheric-wide immunization campaign, every nation is focusing on specific public health problems and needs. For example, Belize is carrying out a massive effort to vaccinate males between the ages of 5 and 35 against German measles. It is also vaccinating children under 5 years of age against several diseases. The immunizations are taking place at schools and public places, as well as directly at job sites.
In all 35 countries, Vaccination Week in the Americas has been preceded by information and communication campaigns with public service messages on radio, television, posters and flyers.
In the United States – as part of a public information campaign to promote vaccinations – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with PAHO since Vaccination Week in the Americas coincides with the U.S. National Infant Immunization Week. Vaccination efforts in the United States as well as Mexico, and in other regions of the Americas, are concentrated on border regions where immunization rates have traditionally been lower.
If things keep going as well as up to now, PAHO estimates that immunization during Vaccination Week in the Americas will reach some 15 million children, 10 million adults over 60 years of age, 1.4 million women of childbearing age and 1.7 million people of other groups at risk.
When PAHO’s Expanded Program on Immunization began, six vaccines were included: measles, pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis. Since then, polio has been eradicated, transmission of indigenous measles has been eliminated from the Americas, and countries are now targeting the elimination of rubella, though vaccination against these diseases must continue until their worldwide eradication. New vaccines are being introduced in routine immunization schedules, including rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b and yellow fever.