The 14th VACCINATION WEEK IN THE AMERICAS (VWA) & THE 5TH WORLD IMMUNIZATION WEEK
Monday, April 25, 2016
By Hon Wendy C. Phipps, Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Community Development & Gender Affairs
In a letter dated February 23, 2016, Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, announced that the 14th Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) will be observed during the period April 23-30, 2016. Dr Etienne further announced that 2016 will also mark the 5th year in which the global community will celebrate World Immunization Week, an inter-related activity being coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Vaccination Week 2016 is being celebrated in the Americas under the theme “Go for the Gold! Get vaccinated!” Our Federal Ministry of Health is advised that the selection of this year’s slogan was inspired by the 2016 Olympiad set to take place in Brazil in August. As such, citizens of the Americas – which includes our CARICOM region – are strongly being encouraged to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities by getting vaccinated – as a means of preventing at least 25 vaccine-preventable infectious agents or diseases. Currently, some 2-3 million deaths are prevented annually due to immunization. As such, efforts must be maintained to close the immunization gap and achieve global vaccination targets by 2020.
As we use this week to showcase the benefits of vaccination to the people of our Country we should, in simple terms, remind the public of the basics about vaccination or immunization. Essentially, we should note that vaccines refer to weakened or killed microorganisms that can cause diseases (i.e. pathogens), that are designed to assist the human body in fighting the said diseases. Everyone can be assured that vaccines do not make individuals sick. Instead, vaccines are designed to prepare our immune system to fight off disease when we become exposed to powerful or full-blown pathogens.
As the people of St. Kitts and Nevis join the rest of the international community to celebrate Vaccination Week 2016, we should remember that our Federation has had a long history of health promotion and preservation via the administration of vaccines. Our archives can attest to the fact that a small pox vaccination campaign would have been implemented here in the early 1800s.
Over time, our national immunization programme has boasted of much success, thereby reducing disease burden and facilitating costeffective public health interventions. To be precise, over the past 35 years our vaccination coverage has remained high. Current coverage now ranks at or about 97% – although the rate 100% coverage was attained in the 1980s and beyond. This consistent success rate is no small feat, and is due in large measure to the following realities, for which we should be grateful:
1) Sustained public confidence and support placed in our national immunization programme;
2) The solid foundation laid by committed, well-trained and professional public health nurses;
3) Strong and clear governmental support;
4) Reliable and strategic partnerships between public health care administrators, civil society, and international donor agencies such as PAHO and WHO; and
5) Continuing public education and awareness of our people on the benefits of vaccination.
These combined efforts have, over time, resulted in both the elimination of diseases such as measles, small pox and polio, and serious curtailment of the impact of other well-known diseases and infectious agents such as Yellow Fever, Cholera, Whooping Cough or Pertussis, Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus and Diphtheria. As we should be well aware, new and aggressive research is now under way across the globe as the awareness, incidence and impact of other infections such as Zika are developed throughout the Americas.
In spite of the significant milestones and inroads made in (a) the research and development of vaccines; (b) successful, national immunization coverage; and (c) the discovery of new vaccines and treatments for emerging strains of illnesses and diseases, all of our national, regional and international efforts would be limited, at best, if individuals do not take and maintain a proactive approach in the management of their own health care and those of their loved ones. It stands to reason that we must preserve the gains we have achieved while closing the gap of unvaccinated individuals who often live on the margins of society, are classified as indigent, and are more likely than others to suffer from inequalities of various forms. It has been documented by PAHO that since the inception of Vaccination Week in the Americas in 2003, more than 580 million persons of various ages have been vaccinated. This is a remarkable achievement and must be sustained in the long-term.
Here in St. Kitts and Nevis we must continue to do our part to (a) encourage parents and guardians to vaccinate their infants and school-aged children; (b) ensure that there is adequate governmental support to finance our national immunization programme; (c) protect our citizens before they travel abroad to areas where certain diseases are prevalent; and (d) protecting our borders by ensuring that minimum vaccination standards are maintained by travelers seeking to access our ports of entry. These efforts must work in tandem with our personal practice of ensuring that (a) our environment and neighbourhoods are hostile to vector-carrying organisms and insects; (b) our water supply remains safe; and (c) our food security is given the highest priority. Through these combined efforts, we would be doing our small part in helping to prevent the estimated 1.5 million deaths that could be avoided if global vaccination coverage is improved. We would also be making a dent in the global statistic of approximately 18.7 million infants who still miss routine immunization for preventable diseases such as Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus.
An impactful array of activities have been planned locally to celebrate Vaccination Week in the Americas, all of which have received the full endorsement of our Federal Government. Here are some of the highlights:
Launch of the 3rd Edition of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in St. Kitts and Nevis (Monday, April 25th)
Launch of a One-minute Vaccination Advertisement featuring local athletic icons (Monday, April 25th)
Start of Vaccination Week in the Americas survey, done by our community nursing staff (Monday, April 25th)
Vaccination of Cabinet Members and Permanent Secretaries against Yellow Fever (Tuesday, April 26th)
National Switch Day – from the use of Trivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (toPV) to Bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (boPV) – (Tuesday, April 26th)
Training of New Health Workers on EPI emphasis re: the Cold Chain System (Thursday, April 28th)
Health Fairs in Basseterre and Charlestown (Friday, April 29th). This activity involves vaccination of workers at the Parks and Beaches Unit on St. Kitts, HIV Rapid Testing, Health Education, and Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Testing.
I wish to use this opportunity to encourage all of our citizens and residents to support the various activities planned for Vaccination Week in the Americas 2016. I also encourage everyone to feel empowered to freely access the services of the 11 health centres on St. Kitts and six (6) in Nevis regarding all of your healthcare needs. Please be assured that our community-based nurses and District Medical Officers (DMOs) are here to serve you, the public.
As Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs, I am pleased to declare Vaccination Week in the Americas 2016 officially open.
May God bless the people of St. Kitts and Nevis with exceptionally good health and wellness.