PAHO’s Influenza Vaccine Drive in Belize During the Time of COVID-19

18 Nov 2020
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Since 2013 the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Belize office has been organizing an influenza vaccination campaign. Done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the campaign targets UN staff, family, and PAHO neighbours in the country office’s compound, encouraging them to get a yearly dose of the vaccine which reduces illness, hospitalization, and death from the Influenza virus. Past campaigns have been so well organized and attended that awareness of the event has increased, converting the initiative into a tradition of sorts.

More than just tradition, however, the relevance of continuing influenza vaccination during the pandemic is amplified by the importance of preventing a co-epidemic of influenza and COVID-19 during this flu season, an additional burden on the health care system which the country could not afford to have at this time. In a sense, this campaign represents protecting not only the persons who may be vulnerable to contracting both viruses, it also means preventing the health system from becoming overwhelmed.

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Usually, the one-day event is realized without much fanfare, persons are given timeslots, cue in the lobby before being escorted into the conference room.  Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, ensuring access to the Influenza vaccine became a logistical challenge. For one thing, with the new normal, on-site meetings are not allowed and authorization had to be obtained from AM HQ (a committee comprised of Advisor ERM, Medical Director, Advisor IHR). In addition, Belize’s Statutory Instrument 136 has banned the gathering of more than 10 persons in one location at the same time. The PAHO/WHO Belize Committee that organized the event had to set up a tent complete with sanitizing stations and physically distant markers in the parking lot. To ensure safety persons were given appointments, queued in the parking lot, maintained physical distance, and practiced proper hand hygiene while access to the protective vaccine was facilitated.  In the end, 204 persons benefited from the one-day event.