Some 60 million to benefit during vaccination week

Washington, D.C., 22 April 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — Countries and territories throughout the Western Hemisphere will reach out to some 60 million children and adults during this year’s Vaccination Week in the Americas, April 23-30, delivering vaccines against diseases including rubella, measles, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough, neonatal tetanus, influenza, yellow fever, diarrhea caused by rotavirus, bacterial pneumonia, and human papilloma virus (HPV), among others.

Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt is supporting this year’s Vaccination Week, which is coordinated by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and appears in PAHO-produced promotional messages.

The regional launch for this year’s Vaccination Week will take place in Kingston, Jamaica, with PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne participating, followed by national and multinational launch events throughout the region. This year’s Vaccination Week also coincides with a worldwide switch to a new polio vaccine, which is being coordinated by WHO and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Usain Bolt says “Go for the gold! Get vaccinated!”

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who holds six Olympic gold medals and 11 world championships, is promoting this year’s Vaccination Week in the Americas with the slogan “Go for the gold! Get vaccinated!” Usain appears on posters, in social media messages and in a public service announcement (PSA), in which he tells viewers, “I’m up to date on my vaccines. Are you?”

“Just as Olympians are committed to winning the gold, we are committed to making sure that you, your family and your friends are as healthy as possible,” says PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne in her own video message. “That’s why we’re inviting you to help us celebrate and get up to date on your vaccines during the 14th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas.”

Global polio vaccine switch

Thirty-six countries and territories in the Americas are among the 155 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.

Public health action for prevention

Vaccines are one of public health’s most cost-effective prevention measures, and their widespread use in the Americas has led to such major achievements as the eradication of smallpox (1971) and the elimination of polio (1991) as well as rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (2015).

Vaccination Week builds on these efforts by seeking to ensure that the benefits of vaccines reach communities that traditionally have lacked access to regular health services. These include indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, border populations and people living in remote or hard-to-reach areas.

In addition to vaccines, at least 21 countries and territories also plan to use Vaccination Week this year to promote other types of prevention. A particular focus will be on mosquito-control activities to prevent or respond to ongoing outbreaks of Zika, dengue and chikungunya. Other complementary activities include deworming, vitamin A supplementation, distribution of oral rehydration therapy, chronic disease and obesity screening, prenatal checks, dental health activities, childhood growth and development screening, work wellness and school health programming, and vaccination of pets.

Launching events

PAHO Director Etienne is set to travel to Kingston, Jamaica, for the regional launch of this year’s Vaccination Week on April 23. More than 400 people are expected to attend, including Jamaica’s minister of health and other government officials and representatives of PAHO partner organizations including the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other key partners.

In addition to the regional launch, multinational launches are planned in border areas including the border between Honduras and Guatemala and the shared border between Colombia, Brazil and Peru. Countries across the region are organizing high-profile national launches as well.