The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is leading Vaccination Week in the Americas, a coordinated campaign to vaccinate more than 70 million individuals against a variety of contagious diseases.
In the United States, immunization rates are high overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90% of children ages 19 to 35 months in the United States have received vaccinations for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox. The rate for vaccination against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) is lower, but still above 80%. While vaccination rates in Central American, South American, and Caribbean countries have continued to improve, data from PAHO shows that those rates for DTP and polio vaccination are still below target in countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti.
As the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO’s Regional Immunization Action Plan has called for a strengthening of immunization programs in the region. Challenges to improving vaccination rates have including a lack of universal access to vaccines, pressure from anti-vaccine groups contributing to vaccine hesitancy, and barriers such as high vaccine cost. From April 21 to 28, PAHO is celebrating the 16th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas, seeking to encourage the general population, and particularly those planning to travel abroad, to get vaccinated. Overall, the campaign is aimed at vaccinating more than 70 million individuals, which is about 10 million more than were vaccinated in 2017.
Following a warning from PAHO in March of 2018 about measles outbreaks in the Americas, 11 countries plan to immunize 6 million individuals for measles as part of the weeklong campaign, in hopes of meeting the PAHO goal of 95% vaccination coverage for 2 doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. While health officials declared measles to be eliminated from the Americas in 2016, 4 countries reported 900 cases in 2017 and 11 countries have reported 380 cases so far in 2018.
In addition, Vaccination Week in the Americas will include influenza vaccination efforts in 14 countries, polio vaccination in 16 countries, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in 13 countries, and yellow fever vaccination in 5 countries. Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, and Suriname all reported yellow fever outbreaks from January 2016 to January 2018, making vaccination a public health priority for both residents of those countries and the travelers visiting them. Vitamin A distribution and deworming efforts will also take place in 16 countries. “Vaccination Week is a great opportunity to unite efforts in protecting the health of the population,” said PAHO director Carissa F. Etienne, in a recent statement.
For the first time, Cuba is taking part in Vaccination Week in the Americas and was chosen to be the host of the regional launch in celebration of the country’s progress in eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases. “Not only does Cuba enjoy universal coverage for vaccines, (it is) also a producer and exporter of these life-saving products,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, Director General WHO. Cuba produces 8 of the 11 vaccines administered in the country and administers 4.8 million vaccines for 13 diseases each year. “World Immunization Week is an opportunity to remind all nations and all people of the incredible value of vaccines.”