Hemisphere poised for week of vaccination programs

With the goal of vaccinating some 44 million people, 45 countries and territories of the Americas are set to participate in the 10th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas as well as the first-ever World Immunization Week, both from Monday through April 28.

More than 365 people of all ages have been vaccinated during the past nine years in campaigns carried out within the framework of Vaccination Week in the Americas. This year, the campaign’s slogan is “For you, for me, for everyone: Get vaccinated.”

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization has supported Vaccination Week in the Americas since 2003, when it was first launched. The initiative’s success has provided inspiration for other regions of the world, which this year have joined together for the first World Immunization Week.

“Vaccination Week in the Americas is an extraordinary achievement that has significantly advanced immunization in our region,” said Mirta Roses Periago, Pan American Health Organization director. “Now the whole world is joining the effort to expand and protect the achievements of vaccination.”

The countries of the Americas have been world leaders in the elimination and reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. The region was the first to eradicate smallpox (in 1971) and to eliminate polio (in 1991). The last endemic case of measles in the Americas was reported in 2002, and the last endemic case of rubella in 2009. Nearly all countries have eliminated neonatal tetanus as a public health problem. And diseases including diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough have been significantly reduced thanks to vaccination coverage averaging 93 percent in children under 1 year.

Despite such successes, many children in the Americas have not completed their vaccination schedules, and hard-to-reach populations continue to have lower rates of vaccination coverage. Vaccination Week in the Americas was launched to close these gaps and protect the region’s hard-won achievements.

Immunization is one of the most cost-effective and successful tools in public health, and prevents an estimated 2–3 million deaths each year around the world the hemispheric health agency noted..

This year, countries and territories will deploy vaccines against a wide range of diseases, including polio, measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, neonatal tetanus, influenza and yellow fever, among others. All vaccines have been pre-qualified by the World Health Organization to guarantee their quality and safety.

Health workers, volunteers and health authorities are gearing up to participate in what has become the region’s largest multi-country health event. A number of celebrities are supporting this year’s effort, including Chilean TV host Don Francisco and Venezuelan singer Ricardo Montaner. Other celebrities promoting this year’s event include Cuban-American actor William Levy, Colombian singer Juanes, Spanish dancer Joaquín Cortés, and Venezuelan singer Carlos Baute.

Following launching activities during last week’s Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, countries throughout the hemisphere will hold similar launches starting Monday. Haiti will be the site of the first of these activities, as it was 10 years ago when the first Vaccination Week in the Americas was launched. Other launches will be held on Tuesday in Las Palmas, on the triple border of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; and May 4 in Barbados, for the Caribbean subregion.

Globally, more than 180 countries and territories are set to participate in the first World Immunization Week, whose slogan is “Protect your world: get vaccinated.” Europe will emphasize the importance of measles vaccination. Southeast Asian countries will carry out their own vaccination week for the first time this year. The eastern Mediterranean will use the slogan “reaching every community.” Africa will emphasize polio vaccination, with the slogan “An unimmunized child is one too many. Give polio the final push.” Thirty-one countries in the western Pacific are planning to participate in World Immunization Week.

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