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Despite vaccination gains, 1.2 million children under one remain unprotected in the Americas

Despite vaccination gains, 1.2 million children under one remain unprotected in the Americas

Washington D.C. 18 April 2024 (PAHO/WHO) – With 15 out of every 100 children in the Americas only partially protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, has urged countries of the region to continue efforts to recover routine vaccination coverage. 

“Historically, our Region has always been a leader in disease elimination. However, for more than a decade, vaccination coverages have significantly decreased,” Dr. Barbosa said during a press briefing today to mark the upcoming Vaccination Week in the Americas. This is due to several factors, including a false perception that eliminated and controlled disease no long pose a risk to peoples’ health; a reduction in the prioritization of vaccination programs; and the rise in disinformation since the COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors.

While improvements have been made to recover lost ground, the PAHO Director underscored that more must be done to recover regional vaccination coverage, particularly for highly contagious diseases such as measles. “This is very concerning, given the rise in measles cases around the globe and the highly contagious nature of this virus,” Dr. Barbosa said.

Countries also remain far from the 90% coverage rate needed to protect girls ages 9 to 14 against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), “which affords them lifelong protection against cervical cancer, one of the main causes of death among women,” Dr. Barbosa said. 

The PAHO Director highlighted that as countries work towards recovery, they must overcome several challenges. To do this, they will need to increase financial and technical resources to improve the performance of essential vaccination services, establish effective communication strategies to tackle vaccine hesitancy, and increase political commitment to routine vaccination programs.  

Dr. Barbosa assured that PAHO stands ready “to support countries as they strengthen disease surveillance, increase vaccination coverage rates in all corners of their national territory and avoid outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

The Organization’s regional vaccine procurement mechanism, the Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines, which has provided countries with over 130 million doses of vaccines in 2022 and 2023, also enables countries of the region to access safe and quality vaccines at affordable prices. 

Furthermore, PAHO’s special program, innovation and regional production platform, continues to support the regional manufacturing of vaccines. This “will not only benefit countries of the Americas during emergencies but will help to improve access to vaccines for regular programs,” Dr. Barbosa said.

Thanks to vaccination, “we have been able to live happier, healthier, longer, and more active lives, while minimizing the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the Director added.

This has only been possible thanks to immunization efforts. “We cannot be complacent,” he added. “Vaccines keep us and our loved ones protected against more than 20 diseases and must continue performing their key role in our societies.” 

Por: Oscar Reyes