Preparations Underway as U.S. Joins International Vaccination Effort
Washington, DC, April 14, 2003 (PAHO)—Preparations for an unprecedented effort to promote immunization in all countries of the Americas are underway and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will join the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and 35 countries for Vaccination Week in the Americas.
This joint effort, which coincides with National Infant Immunization Week in the U.S., will highlight the need for routine vaccinations and promote access to health services. According to the CDC, 1 million U.S. children are not adequately immunized.
The weeklong events from April 24-30, coordinated by PAHO, will focus on the children normally left behind, those living in rural border regions, and the most vulnerable groups, including women and the elderly.
Dr. Mirta Roses, director of PAHO, who will travel to Haiti to kick off the immunization effort in that country, said Vaccine Week "demonstrates our strong commitment to work together to improve the health of the people of the Americas, especially the children."
Countries from Canada to the tip of South America and throughout the Caribbean will take part in the unprecedented effort, which will benefit millions of children, young women, and seniors, many in remote areas. According to PAHO figures, targets for the immunization effort in Latin America and the Caribbean include some 15 million children, 10 million adults, 10 million people over 60 years old, 1.4 million women of childbearing age, and 1.7 million people in other risk groups.
PAHO's 35 countries were the first to eradicate smallpox in 1973 and polio in 1991, and are now aiming at measles and rubella.
The theme for the multi-country effort, which is in its second year, is "Vaccination: an act of love. Love Them. Protect them. Immunize Them." PAHO has produced public service announcements for television and radio, posters and stickers to support Vaccination Week.
Roses said the vaccination week will not only highlight the need for routine vaccinations to improve coverage, especially in rural areas, but will also promote access to health services. Most of the countries will vaccinate against measles, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, and some will use vaccinations for influenza and neonatal tetanus.
In the U.S., about 11,000 babies are born daily and need to receive immunizations against 12 diseases by the time they are 2 years old, according to the CDC's National Immunization Program. The diseases that these vaccines prevent include: Diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis (whooping cough), Pneumococcal disease, Polio, Rubella (German measles), Tetanus (lockjaw), and Varicella, or chickenpox. The CDC's Vaccines for Children Program provides free vaccines to doctors who serve eligible children.
Despite recent gains in childhood immunization coverage, more than 20 percent of 2-year-olds in the U.S. are still missing one or more of the recommended immunizations, according to the CDC, which noted that infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases and it is critical that they be protected through immunization.
Disease causing viruses and bacteria are still circulating, either at low levels in the United States or elsewhere in the world. For example, each year the United States is hit with multiple importations of measles, which is no longer circulating in the Americas. But if the virus is imported from other countries and if vaccination coverage levels drop, a resurgence of measles is likely. The United States was hit with a measles epidemic resulting in 55,000 cases of measles, 11,000 hospitalizations, and more than 120 deaths between 1989 and 1991.
PAHO, established in 1902, is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. In addition, France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States, Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.