Bridgetown, Barbados, 24 April 2023 (PAHO) - Thank you for this opportunity to address our people, across the Americas during the launch of the 21st Vaccination Week in the Americas. Each year, this event reminds us of the importance of vaccines as a way to protect ourselves and each other.
As we emerge from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking stock of the state of our essential health services and vaccination programs. Because of the decline of our vaccination coverage rates over the last 10 years, the risk of outbreaks from vaccine-preventable diseases is high. This is cause for serious alarm.
In our own region of the Caribbean, more than 11,000 children younger than 1 year (almost one in ten) did not receive all their vaccine doses in 2021, leaving them susceptible to diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and diphtheria – diseases we had already eliminated from our shores.
But there are laudable achievements which must be recognised. In the non-Latin Caribbean, more than 3 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over the last two years. In my own country of Barbados, more than 55% of the population has received at least two doses of vaccine. When we come together, even during difficult times, we can achieve great things.
My administration is committed to investments in all components of the national immunization programme. By so doing we will ensure that persons of all ages have access to this essential service. Persons at high risk of severe disease – such as older adults or pregnant women – will remain among our highest priority groups for vaccination. We will continue to provide vaccines to all vulnerable persons residing in Barbados.
In addition, we are doing much to address vaccine hesitancy, especially among our health workers. Along with our fellow CARICOM members, we continue to collaborate with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), PAHO, regional nursing, medical and allied health professional bodies and institutions to develop and implement trainings and educational campaigns for all our health workers. As they dedicated their lives to providing indefatigable support during the worse days of the pandemic, we will continue to collaborate with them to address their questions and design vaccination services that fit their needs.
In conclusion, let us remind ourselves that our national immunization programs are our first line of defense against outbreaks. The road to recovery is long, but each one of us must play our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones. And the way to do this is by getting all our shots during Vaccination Week in the Americas. Get up-to-date. Each Vaccine Counts. Thank you.