Protecting immunization achievements in the Americas is critically important, including during the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil

Kingston, Jamaica 25 April 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — As Vaccination Week in the Americas gets under way this week in countries throughout the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging everyone to "Go for the gold! Get vaccinated!"

The call to action is linked to the upcoming Olympic games in June in Brazil and emphasizes the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates to protect the Americas from vaccine-preventable diseases, including several that have already been eliminated from the hemisphere.

"Our slogan for this year's Vaccination Week in the Americas is 'Go for the gold! Get vaccinated!' said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne during a regional launch this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica. "Maintaining your vaccinations up to date is of critical importance, as it helps to protect you, your family and your friends, especially during large international events such as the Olympic games, when there is a higher risk of importation of vaccine preventable diseases."

This year's Vaccination Week in the Americas (23 April through 2 May) will reach out to nearly 60 million girls and boys, men and women in 45 countries and territories with vaccines against more than 20 diseases, including measles, rubella, polio, and pneumonia. Since it began in 2003, the PAHO-led initiative has taken the benefits of vaccination to more than 580 million people in the Western Hemisphere. A major objective each year is to reach populations with limited access to health services, including indigenous communities, residents of urban fringe areas, and people living in rural and border areas.

Global leaders in disease elimination

The countries of the Americas have historically enjoyed high vaccination rates and, as a result, have become global leaders in controlling and eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases. The Americas region was the first in the world to eradicate smallpox (in 1971) and to eliminate polio (in 1994), and in 2015 became the world's region first to be certified as having eliminated rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. Other vaccine-preventable diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, have also been substantially reduced throughout the hemisphere."Over these past 14 years, Vaccination Week has grown from being a multicountry response to measles into a worldwide movement," said Etienne. "We must continue to work together on our elimination goals as well as on preventing the re-introduction of these diseases that we have already eliminated. We must be watchful, and we must be sure we keep our vaccination rates high."

Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt in PAHO campaign

Jamaican track superstar Usain Bolt—a six-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time sprinting world champion—has joined PAHO this year to support the Vaccination Week in the Americas campaign. Usain appears on posters and in a public service announcement (PSA) encouraging people to "Go for the gold! Get Vaccinated!"

"Being the best athlete I can means staying healthy — including keeping up to date on my vaccines," says Bolt in a social media post for the campaign. In the PSA, he says "I'm up to date on my vaccines. Are you?" and urges viewers to "Go for the gold" and get vaccinated.

World Immunization Week

Vaccination Week in the Americas provided part of the inspiration for World Immunization Week, which will take place on 24-30 April. The 5th annual campaign this year highlights recent gains in immunization coverage and outlines further steps countries can take to "Close the Immunization Gap" and meet global vaccination targets by 2020.

In addition, 26 countries and territories in the Americas are among 155 countries worldwide that will participate in a global switchover from the traditional trivalent (targeting three viral strains) oral polio vaccine (tOPV) to the newer bivalent (targeting two strains) oral vaccine (bOPV), between April 17 and May 1. The global switch is being coordinated by WHO and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The switch is possible because type 2 wild polio has been eradicated and is the first major step toward the eventual removal of all OPV.

PAHO/WHO and Vaccination Week in the Americas

Vaccination Week in the Americas started in 2003 as part of a regional response to an outbreak of measles in Venezuela and Colombia in 2002. Building on a long tradition of strong national immunization programs in the Americas, the ministers of health of the Andean countries proposed the idea of a coordinated international immunization initiative.

PAHO engages in technical cooperation with its member countries to organize and carrying out Vaccination Week each year, providing assistance with planning, resource mobilization, social communication campaigns, procurement of vaccines and supplies, and evaluation. The PAHO Revolving Fund also provides key support for Vaccination Week by helping PAHO member countries pool their resources to procure high-quality vaccines, syringes and other supplies at the lowest prices.

Links

— Vaccination Week in the Americas 2016

— PSA with Usain Bolt

— Director's message

— Video highlights of Vaccination Week launch in Jamaica

— Tools for social media

— Posters and banners