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

2.7 million children in the Americas have not received the vaccines needed to stay healthy in 2020, while an estimated 230 million people have still not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the region

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

“While we have been working hard to protect our populations from COVID-19, our routine immunization programs have been severely impacted,” said Dr. Etienne at the launch of the 20th Vaccination Week in the Americas in Roseau, Kenya. Dominica. “But even before COVID-19 suddenly interrupted the world, our coverage for routine vaccines had fallen below optimal levels,” she added.

According to the PAHO director, the past two years have reversed nearly three decades of progress in polio and measles vaccinations, creating a real risk of reintroduction. “Today we are back to the same levels of vaccination coverage that we reported in 1994, when these diseases still posed a serious threat to our children, our families and our communities,” she said.

Dr Etienne warned that “if this situation continues, we will pay an extremely high price in loss of life, increased disabilities and 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. “This major achievement, however, is not enough,” said Dr Etienne. “There is still a long way to go to ensure that all at-risk populations receive the doses they need to protect themselves.”

“Inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and widespread vaccine hesitancy have exposed the fault lines along our regional landscape,” she said, adding that it is “d ‘a dilemma that must be resolved as soon as possible’. Vaccination Week is an opportunity to “dispel doubts and promote the benefits of vaccination”.

The Americas have led the fight in the eradication of smallpox, the elimination of poliomyelitis, measles and rubella, and the early introduction of new vaccines such as pneumococcus, human papilloma virus (HPV ) and rotavirus, among others. This year, countries and territories in the region plan to vaccinate 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 Austria, Acting Prime Minister of Dominica
“PAHO’s support over the past two years and before 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 over 41% of the population, but we recognize that more of our people should have already received their vaccines. Dominica was one of the first countries in our region to receive a significant number of vaccine donations, as well as from the COVAX Facility. Vaccines have, from the start, been available to all eligible Dominicans. Access to vaccines has therefore never been a problem during this pandemic, but we are recommitting to increasing our number of vaccines this week and in the months to come.

Gabriel Boric, President of Chile
“There is no doubt that vaccines have had enormous importance in our history and particularly in recent years because of the pandemic. Faced with movements that sometimes question the effectiveness and meaning of these mass vaccination procedures, we can only defend the achievements of science which, thanks to the collaboration of scientists from all over the world, has made it possible to develop mechanisms to combat terrible situations like the pandemic. However, vaccination rates in the countries of the Americas remain very different. We are in a situation where we can either work together to save ourselves or fall on our own.

Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador
“After facing the COVID pandemic, the world understood the importance of vaccines. Not only because they saved lives, but because they were the key to our return to normal life. Vaccination is our best ally to prevent and protect us from disease. This has been proven with the dramatic reduction in COVID-19, undercrowded hospitals and empty intensive care beds. This has been possible thanks to our vaccination coverage against COVID-19, which has immunized nearly 9 out of 10 Ecuadorians.”

Xiomara Castro, President of Honduras
“During the pandemic, regular vaccination coverage has declined, which is why I have called for the strengthening of our national vaccination programs and the necessary investments to ensure quality, free and universal health in our territories, in particular in the areas of greatest vulnerability I join PAHO and WHO in committing to make every effort to introduce vaccination to all corners of the country, without discrimination and leaving no one behind.

Dr Irving McIntyre, Minister of Health, Welfare and New Health Investments of Dominica
“Dominica’s Expanded Immunization Program provides free, lifelong immunizations at primary health care level against diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and hepatitis. In 2019, we also saw the successful introduction of the HPV vaccine for adolescents, which had one of the highest introduction coverages in the region, reaching approximately 92% of adolescents. More recently, we introduced COVID-19 vaccines, with current coverage of over 43% of the total population fully immunized. In order to get the most out of COVID-19 vaccines and accelerate vaccine uptake, we need to implement unconventional and non-traditional concepts during these unprecedented times, including the mobile vaccination team and the launch a digital vaccination certificate.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
“Decades of effort to establish vaccination programs around the world, in partnership with public health programs in countries, have 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 support for COVID-19 vaccination will provide many future dividends as we vaccinate against other diseases. We will only achieve our goals by working together. You have the United States government as a partner in this work.

Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM
“Vaccination has enabled the Caribbean to eliminate measles, smallpox, poliomyelitis, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. Unfortunately, according to PAHO, there is below average use of COVID-19 vaccines as well as an observable shift in the trajectory of childhood vaccinations. In order to address the problem of vaccine hesitancy, the CARICOM Secretariat is working with CARPHA, PAHO, civil society and others to redouble and accelerate public information and education efforts to combat against misinformation, myths and other drivers and enablers of vaccine hesitancy.

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