Vaccination Week "Highlights Unity"
Washington, May 13, 2004 (PAHO)—First reports indicate that Vaccination Week in the Americas was successful, with the poorest country of the continent, Haiti, setting an example by vaccinating 150,000 children, of which 20 percent had never received a vaccine, according to Pan American Health Organization officials.
"Vaccination week in the Americas was an unprecedented effort that highlights the unity and the will of the people in the Americas and their desire to go to great lengths to improve health and save lives. As I said in Haiti when we launched the week, when we work together towards the same goals we can achieve marvelous things," said Dr. Mirta Roses, director of PAHO.
The vaccine campaign that kicked off April 24, and is still going on in some countries, was coordinated by PAHO to bring together for the first time all the countries of the continent in a common initiative to immunize 40 million children, older adults, women of childbearing age and risk groups.
Dr. Jon Andrus, chief of PAHO's Immunization Unit, said, "The preliminary results speak for themselves. We are still collecting data, but it looks like we will be very close to reaching the 40 million people targeted across the Region."
Noting the high vaccination numbers in Haiti, "even in the context of the current crisis, this accomplishment was truly mind-boggling. Hats off to the partners, but most importantly the teams of vaccinators who worked tirelessly to reach every child," Andrus said.
"We also know that across the Region more than 18 border activities were organized with participation of highest level officials, like Ministers of Health, first ladies, and in three countries, even presidents. Anyway you look at it, this year the Vaccination Week in the Americas was a remarkable success," Andrus added.
The president of the Dominican Republic, Hipólito Mejía, was one of the presidents who participated, kicking off the campaign in the Robert Reid Cabral Children's Hospital in Santo Domingo. In that country, some 800,000 children were vaccinated against rubella and measles, and more than one million against polio.
The campaign was extended through May in some countries to reach specific objectives. For example, in El Salvador, vaccination continues for rubella, and in Peru the campaign was extended to vaccinate 1 million women of childbearing age. "The great involvement and acceptance of girls from 16 to 20 years old during the Week of Vaccination in the Americas was one of the main reasons to prolong the campaign," said Dr. Pilar Mazzetti Soler, Peru's minister of health.
Data from Peru indicate that immunization will be completed for 1 million girls who are not pregnant against rubella and measles; for 400,000 women aged 15 to 49 years old against diphtheria and tetanus, and for more than 400,000 children against 10 diseases.
Preliminary data provided by 10 of the 14 health regions in Panama show that 2,600 children under 1 year old, 6,409 children 1 to 4 years old, and 17,019 women of childbearing age were vaccinated. According to the report, a high percentage of the population received the complete vaccine series for their age. Possible cases of measles and rubella were also tracked and 1,877 houses with 5,432 inhabitants were visited. Four suspected cases were found, but proved negative.
Immunization activities were carried out along 18 border areas throughout the continent. Both Canada and the United States supported the initiative with public awareness campaigns to raise consciousness about the importance of vaccines, especially to immigrant communities. The campaign also coincided with National Infant Immunization Week in the U.S, an annual observance that emphasizes immunizing infants against 12 vaccine preventable diseases by the age of two. Over 500 communities across the country participated, using the same theme in support of the continental campaign: "Vaccination: An Act of Love: Love them, Protect Them, Immunize Them."
One of the lessons learned in the initiative, PAHO officials noted, is that immunization in the entire continent should be permanent, and that surveillance systems need strengthening to identify any outbreak and move rapidly to attack it. Quick reactions in recent outbreaks show that emergency interventions and vaccinations are essential to stop expansion of a disease.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples, and also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).