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  • Writer's pictureClara

PAHO Director: Close immunization gaps for all vaccines

26 April 2022

In 2020, 2.7 million children in the Americas did not receive the essential vaccines needed to keep them healthy due to interruptions in health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, warned Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne. Gaps in vaccination coverage, including for COVID-19 vaccines, must be closed, she said.

“While we labored arduously to protect our populations against COVID-19, our routine immunization programs were severely affected,” Dr. Etienne said at the launch of the 20th Vaccination Week in the Americas in Roseau, Dominica. “But even before COVID-19 brought the world to a sudden halt, our coverage for routine vaccines had fallen below optimal levels,” she added.

According to the PAHO Director, the last two years have set back almost three decades of vaccination progress against polio and measles, creating a real risk for their reintroduction. “Today we are again at the same vaccination coverage levels that we reported in 1994, when these diseases still posed a serious threat to our children, families, and communities,” she said.

Dr. Etienne warned that “if this situation continues, we will pay an extremely high price in loss of life, increased disabilities, and enormous financial costs.”

Since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in the region 15 months ago, more than 66% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated. “This seminal achievement is, however, not sufficient,” Dr. Etienne said. “There is still a long way to go to ensure that all populations at risk receive the doses that they need for protection.”

“The inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and widespread vaccine hesitancy, have unmasked concerning fault lines along our regional landscape,” she said, adding that “this is a dilemma that must be addressed sooner rather than later.” Vaccination Week is an opportunity to “dispel doubts and promote the benefits of vaccination.”

The Americas have led the fight in the eradication of smallpox, the elimination of polio, measles and rubella, and in the early introduction of new vaccines such as pneumococcal, human papilloma virus (HPV), and rotavirus, among others. This year, the countries and territories of the region plan to immunize around 140 million people for Vaccination Week, which celebrates its 20th anniversary.

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