Get Vaccinated, It Saves Lives!

Get Vaccinated, It Saves Lives!

Each year, immunization prevents an estimated 2-3 million deaths from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles - life-threatening diseases that disproportionately affect children.  Immunization is one of the world’s most successful public health initiatives.

In observance of Vaccination Week 2016, Dr. Joy St. John Director of Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) said “it is important to realize how vaccines have given everyone the opportunity for longer life and greater quality of life.  In addition to saving lives, vaccines have the power to transform lives, giving children a chance to grow up healthy, go to school, and improve their life prospects.”

Here in the Caribbean, the health of the general public improved dramatically with the advent of vaccination which allowed children to survive because they could no longer develop severe measles infections. The rates of blindness and deafness fell steeply because rubella was no longer contracted while in the womb and damaging developing brains. New cases of polio have not been seen in decades because of the power of many vigilant vaccination teams eradicating this disease with campaign after campaign aimed at ensuring the end to paralysis from polio.  

The Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) was initiated in 1974 by the World Health Organization (WHO) with the aim to ensure child vaccination throughout the world and by 1984, a standardized vaccination schedule for the original EPI vaccines: Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP), oral polio and measles was established. Many global initiatives have been developed to ensure that people throughout the life cycle can have healthier lives through access to safe vaccination programs.

The decade of Vaccines (2011–2020) is an example of this as it has the vision of promoting and facilitating universal access to immunization.

The Caribbean has long been a leader among regions of the world as our countries have applied high standards in the delivery of vaccination programs. The Caribbean eradicated measles in 2002 and polio in 1982. However, the countries of the Caribbean remain at risk for importation of wild Poliovirus and circulating Vaccine-Derived Poliovirus (cVDPV). WHO has almost declared global eradication of polio and here at CARPHA, we are ensuring that the laboratory is free of samples containing polio as part of our effort to ensuring this part of the world is truly polio free.

National coverage levels remain nowadays over 90% throughout the Caribbean region with an average of 94% coverage for all the antigens reported (BCG, DTP, Polio, Hib, HepB and MMR1). However, the objective of at least 95% has been consecutively achieved only for the BCG vaccine over the past seven years in the Caribbean Community. MMR2 coverage is the only antigen under 90% of coverage but maintained over 80% for the last 3 years. Our health authorities must maintain their programs and their vigilance to keep vaccine preventable diseases at bay.

New vaccines have extended the range of diseases which can be prevented, whether you are old or young. Every year the seasonal flu vaccine contains the most common flu causing viruses. CARPHA contributes to the information which helps to determine what flu viruses are circulating in the Caribbean through reporting what flu viruses it determines through lab tests.  

Countries continue to introduce new and underutilized vaccines in the routine immunization schedule in the public sector. Over the last 2 years, nineteen countries were using the influenza vaccine for various prioritized risk groups and 12 countries (Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Guyana, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago) were using the conjugated pneumococcal  vaccine (half using the 10-valent and half using the 13-valent formulation). The 4-valent HPV vaccine is now being administered in 10 countries, meningococcal vaccine in 5 countries, varicella (chicken pox) vaccine in 8 countries and yellow fever vaccine in 3 countries. The rotavirus vaccine remains administered in only 2 countries, Guyana and the Cayman Islands, introduced since 2010. 

So this year for Vaccination Week, CARPHA urges you to value the lives you live because of the improvements that vaccination programs have made. Support Vaccination Week, as the Caribbean goes for the gold.

Vaccination Week is an initiative which started in 2003 in the Americas by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to allow countries to focus on special activities to promote vaccination and their EPI programmes. 10 years later all regions of the world had seen the benefits of such a focus and in 2012 the first World Vaccination week was celebrated.

This year’s theme Go for the gold! Get vaccinated! recognises that saving a life by vaccination from vaccine preventable diseases like tetanus, whooping cough or polio is just like winning a race.  

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