Now in its 9th year, Vaccination Week in the Americas has reached some 323 million in this hemisphere and is inspiring similar efforts in other regions
Washington, D.C., April 21, 2011 — Forty-five countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere will reach out to some 41 million children and adults with vaccines against preventable diseases during the 9th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas, April 23 to 30.
This year's campaign—with the slogan "Vaccinate your family, protect your community" —encourages vaccination not just of children but of entire families and highlights the importance of individual action to protect collective health.
"Knowing that my family and I are protected by vaccines gives me true peace of mind," says singer Ricardo Montaner in a public service announcement (PSA) sent to Spanish-language TV stations around the region. "And that's what I'd like all of us to do—adults, men, women, teenagers, children, and senior citizens. Go to the nearest health center. That way we'll have much healthier communities."
Health workers, volunteers, government officials and celebrities throughout the Americas are gearing up to participate in what has become the hemisphere's largest multi-country health effort. The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is providing leadership and coordination, as it has since the initiative was first launched in 2003.
Thanks to ongoing global outreach efforts, vaccination weeks are being held simultaneously this year in four other regions besides the Americas: Europe will celebrate its 6th initiative, the Eastern Mediterranean will celebrate its 2nd and the African and Western Pacific regions will celebrate their first-ever vaccination weeks. In total, more than 180 countries and territories worldwide are expected to participate in vaccination week events.
"We have every reason to be proud of Vaccination Week in the Americas," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. "It has not only helped spread the benefits of immunization to people throughout our hemisphere, it has provided a model for what can be achieved with vaccines if we all work together. Given the tremendous momentum, I am confident that next year—on the 10th anniversary of own initiative—we will see the first truly global vaccination week."
The countries of the Americas have been world leaders in eliminating or reducing vaccine-preventable diseases. The region was the first to eradicate smallpox (in 1971) and to eliminate polio (in 1991). The last case of endemic measles in the Americas was reported in 2002, and the last case of endemic rubella in 2009. Diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis have also been significantly reduced, thanks to rates of immunization that average over 93% among children under 1.
Despite these successes, many children in the Americas have not completed their vaccine schedules, and hard-to-reach populations continue to have lower rates of coverage. Vaccination Week in the Americas was launched in 2003 to address those gaps and to protect the region's hard-won immunization achievements.
Vaccines being deployed this year provide protection against polio, measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, neonatal tetanus, influenza and yellow fever, among other diseases. Many countries are also incorporating other health interventions into their activities, including deworming treatments, vitamin A supplementation, health education, child-growth monitoring and blood pressure screening.
Major launching events are planned for the Bolivia—Peru border (April 26) and Manaus, Brazil (April 30); PAHO Director Mirta Roses is scheduled to participate in both celebrations. A joint launch for the United States and Mexico will be held in Tucson, Arizona, on April 26, with PAHO Deputy Director Jon Andrus attending. PAHO Assistant Director Socorro Gross will attend events in Panama (April 25) and Guatemala (April 28). High-level authorities and representatives of international organizations have also been invited to these events.
In addition, more than 30 national, bi-national and tri-national events will be celebrated throughout the region. These include launches by Brazil—Colombia—Peru (April 25), Colombia—Ecuador (April 30), Guatemala—Honduras (April 29) and Cuba, among others. Invited guests include high-level health authorities, governors, mayors, and local leaders.
Celebrity participants in this year's launches include singer Ricardo Montaner—a PAHO/WHO "Champion of Health"—in Panama (April 25) and the TV characters of Plaza Sésamo in Colombia (April 25 and 30) and Costa Rica (May 2).
PAHO/WHO, in addition to providing regional and international coordination for Vaccination Week in the Americas, has produced social communication materials in different languages, including indigenous languages, for use by participating countries. They include posters and stickers featuring the characters of Plaza Sésamo and the PSA featuring Ricardo Montaner.
Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Vaccination Week in the Americas has promoted immunization as one of public health's most cost-effective measures and has helped spread the benefits of immunization to the hemisphere's most vulnerable populations, including indigenous people, border and isolated communities, and marginalized urban groups. To date, more than 323 million children and adults have been reached within the framework of the initiative.
In addition to PAHO/WHO, other international supporters of Vaccination Week in the Americas 2011 include UNICEF, the Canadian International Development Agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, among others.
More information on VWA is available at www.paho.org/vwa
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
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