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HomeNewsRegional NewsHealth experts warn childhood vaccination coverage in the Caribbean has declined significantly

Health experts warn childhood vaccination coverage in the Caribbean has declined significantly


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The Caribbean Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (CiTAG) is warning that routine childhood vaccination coverage in Caribbean countries has fallen significantly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a statement, the CiTAG, which is an independent group of experts in the fields of epidemiology, public health, microbiology, paediatrics and tropical medicine, said that in some countries as many as three out of 10 infants are not fully vaccinated, putting them at risk of measles, polio and other diseases eliminated in the Americas that continue to circulate in other areas of the world.

“It is essential that countries conduct routine vaccination campaigns targeted at children under five years of age to ensure that they are fully vaccinated. Countries are urged to involve their paediatricians and private doctors in this campaign and, where necessary, to employ retired nurses and other health providers to support the health team.”

The group of experts said that at the same time, it is important to maintain vaccine-preventable disease vigilance given the increased risk of visitors to the Caribbean re-introducing polio, measles, rubella or other childhood communicable diseases to our countries.

“We need to improve our surveillance of acute flaccid paralysis and rash and fever surveillance,” CiTAG said, commending countries for their tremendous work and dedicated response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of many challenges.

“Our health staff and frontline workers have worked extremely hard with great commitment and sacrifice. Despite these heroic efforts most of the Caribbean countries have not yet achieved the World Health Organisation (WHO) goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of our adult population with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Over 50 per cent of our most vulnerable population, persons over the age of 50 years and adults with comorbidities remain unvaccinated.”

The group said that the priority for COVID-19 vaccination is to achieve high vaccine coverage among the elderly and persons with comorbidities.

“We can do this if we improve access by simplifying the vaccination process and increasing opportunities for vaccination including involving more doctors in the private sector. Respectful face-to-face education by trusted persons, such as nurses, doctors and informed grassroots leaders and pastors, is needed to address misinformation and misconceptions and convince many persons to accept vaccination.”

CITAG said it is advising countries to first improve routine childhood vaccination coverage and adult COVID-19 vaccination of the elderly and persons with comorbid conditions before embarking on COVID-19 vaccination of children five to 11 years of age.

“Most young children do not get seriously ill from COVID-19. CITAG advises that instead of routine COVID-19 vaccination of children under 12 years, those countries should target the small number of children with severe immune disorders by having their paediatrician vaccinate them.

“Every effort should be made to keep schools open so that children can attend face-to-face classes. Basic precautions should be maintained such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing and good ventilation.

“The Caribbean has a significant legacy of strong national immunisation programmes resulting in high immunisation coverage of routine childhood vaccines. Governments must continue to prioritise financial and human resources to support all aspects of the EPI Programme,” the group of experts said.


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