Home Fitness PAHO Director calls for immunization gaps to be closed for all vaccines, including COVID-19

PAHO Director calls for immunization gaps to be closed for all vaccines, including COVID-19

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PAHO Director calls for immunization gaps to be closed for all vaccines, including COVID-19

2.7 million children in the Americas did not receive the vaccines needed to keep them healthy in 2020, while around 230 million people have still not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the region

Roseau, Dominica, 25 April 2022 (PAHO) – In 2020, 2.7 million children in the Americas did not receive the essential vaccines needed to keep them healthy due to interruptions in health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, warned Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne. Gaps in vaccination coverage, including for COVID-19 vaccines, must be closed, she said.

“While we labored arduously to protect our populations against COVID-19, our routine immunization programs were severely affected,” Dr. Etienne said at the launch of the 20th Vaccination Week in the Americas in Roseau, Dominica. “But even before COVID-19 brought the world to a sudden halt, our coverage for routine vaccines had fallen below optimal levels,” she added.

According to the PAHO Director the past two years have brought back nearly three decades worth of vaccine progress against measles and polio, making it a risky time for their reintroduction. She stated that today we have reached the same levels of vaccination coverage as we did in 1994, back when these diseases still pose a threat to children’s health, their families and communities.

Dr. Etienne warns that “if we continue to have this situation, we will be paying an extremely high price for loss of life and increased disability, as well as enormous financial costs .”

Since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in the region 15 months ago, more than 66% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated. Dr. Etienne stated that “this seminal accomplishment is not enough.” There is much more to be done to make sure that everyone at high risk gets the protection .”

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“The inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and widespread vaccine hesitancy, have unmasked concerning fault lines along our regional landscape,” she said, adding that “this is a dilemma that must be addressed sooner rather than later.” Vaccination Week is an opportunity to “dispel doubts and promote the benefits of vaccination.”

The Americas led the fight against smallpox and measles, as well as the introduction and early implementation of vaccines like pneumococcal and human papilloma viruses (HPV) and rotavirus. This year, the countries and territories of the region plan to immunize around 140 million people for Vaccination Week, which celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Quotes from presidents, ministers and partners of the Americas at the Vaccination Week launch event

Reginald Austrie, Acting Prime Minister of Dominica
The support of PAHO over the last two years has been invaluable. Dominica has been able to fight against COVID-19, limiting the number of deaths and reducing the impact of the virus. Dominica has vaccinated more than 41% of the population, but we acknowledge that more of our people should have already received their shots. Dominica received vaccines from both the COVAX Facility and a large number of donors. Every Dominican has had access to vaccines since the beginning. Vaccines have been available to all Dominicans since the beginning of this pandemic.

Gabriel Boric, President of Chile
There is no doubt vaccines are of great importance throughout history, and especially in the aftermath of the recent pandemic. We can defend science’s achievements, which have led to mechanisms that combat horrible situations such as the pandemic, despite the fact that some people question their efficacy. The vaccination rates for countries in the Americas are very different. The situation is one of two choices: either we work together and save ourselves, or go it alone .”

Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador
The world now understands the value of vaccines after the COVID epidemic. They have not only saved lives but have also helped us return to our normal lives. Vaccination can be our greatest ally in preventing or protecting from disease. This has been proven with the dramatic reduction in COVID-19, the uncrowded hospitals and the empty ICU beds. This has been possible because of our vaccination coverage against COVID-19, which has immunized almost 9 out of 10 Ecuadorians.”

Xiomara Castro, President of Honduras
“During the pandemic regular vaccination coverage fell, so I called for strengthened national immunization programs and the investment necessary to provide quality, free, and universal healthcare in all our territories, especially in the most vulnerable areas. Joining PAHO/WHO, I pledge to do all that is possible to ensure vaccinations are available to everyone in the country.

Dr. Irving McIntyre, Minister of Health, Wellness and New Health Investment of Dominica
The Expanded Program of Immunization in Dominica offers free vaccines at every stage of life, from primary care to secondary health care. It protects against disease such as diphtheria and pertussis. In 2019, we also saw the successful introduction of the HPV vaccine for adolescents which had one of the highest introductory coverage in the region, reaching approximately 92% of adolescents. More recently, we introduced the COVID-19 vaccines, with a current coverage of over 43% of the total population being fully vaccinated. In order to make the best use of COVID-19 vaccines and to accelerate vaccination uptake, we need to implement unconventional and non-traditional concepts in these unprecedented times, including the mobile vaccination team and the launch of a digital vaccination certificate.”

Dr Rochelle Walensky, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
“The decades of effort put into building immunization programs around the world, done in partnership with the countries’ public health programs, helped lay the foundation for our ability to vaccinate the world against COVID-19. Capitalizing on the work put in place to rapidly scale-up vaccination support for COVID-19 will provide many future dividends as we vaccinate against other diseases. Working together will help us achieve our goals. The United States government is your partner in this effort .”

Dr Carla Barnett, Secretary-general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM
The Caribbean has been able to eradicate measles and smallpox as well as poliomyelitis and congenital rubella syndrome through vaccination. Unfortunately, according to PAHO, there is a less than average uptake of COVID-19 vaccines as well as an observable change in the trajectory of childhood immunizations. The CARICOM Secretariat collaborates with PAHO and CARPHA to tackle the problem of vaccine Hesitancy.

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