by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Ahead of Vaccination Week in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) held a press briefing focusing on updates on vaccination in the Americas on April 20.
Immunization Advisor with the PAHO, Dr. Margherita Ghiselli, said that based on data from 2021, immunisation for various diseases and viruses is still considerably high.
“The latest data that we have on St. Kitts and Nevis and all countries and territories that the America Conference 2021. So based on these data, the vaccines that we are monitoring before the return of immunisation programs show coverage of about 99% specifically for St. Kitts and relatively high for other countries and territories in the Caribbean as well. And the same goes for the vaccine doses against measles, rubella, and mumps.”
However, the Caribbean is still susceptible to outbreaks because of low returns of children to clinics to receive follow-up vaccinations.
“However, if you look at the Caribbean as a whole, we find that more than 11,000 children younger than one year who live in the Caribbean, almost one in ten did not receive all of their vaccine doses. So there definitely has been an impact of the pandemic on coverage rates in the Caribbean, leaving many children vulnerable. So this is due in part to services not always being available but also to a large degree to vaccine hesitancy which is linked to misinformation…. This situation leaves the Caribbean susceptible to new outbreaks. And as the director was mentioning, with such a strong tourism economy as in the Caribbean, the risk of importation is high, which is why it is so important to spread vaccination coverage rates in all countries and territories of the Caribbean, not just St. Kitts and Nevis, to stem the possibility of these new outbreaks and PAHO is collaborating with Ministries of Health and partners across the region of the Caribbean to improve not only coverage rates but also to provide and disseminate additional information regarding vaccines and vaccination to the general public and to health care worker.”
What is driving vaccination hesitancy?
“PAHO and a number of colleagues, including UNICEF, have administered a number of surveys and data collection tools in order to understand exactly as the question poses, what [are] the concerns surrounding COVID-19 vaccination not only in children but among adults and health workers as well. Some of the results that I can summarise here is that there are considerable doubts that we have picked up and understood with regards to the safety of the vaccines; many have said that they seem to have been developed too quickly in order to assure the safety of the vaccine. And some have concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccines since people who have received the vaccine can still become infected even though the infection is either asymptomatic or quite mild and the number of deaths and hospitalisation is significantly reduced once vaccination coverage rates are increasing” – Immunization Advisor with the PAHO, Dr Margherita Ghiselli.
What has PAHo been doing to help with vaccine hesitancy and closing immunity gaps in populations?
“So what PAHO has been doing is working with the member states, the countries and territories in the Caribbean to strengthen their vaccination program and close immunity gaps, but also to conduct behavioural research to inform immunisation studies, communication tools, not only for the general public, but also for health workers, and for decision-makers at all levels. And then, finally, it’s specifically in the Caribbean, we’re working very closely with Patty Coleman with professional association to make sure that training on vaccines and vaccination are an integral part of the curriculum of medical schools, [and] nursing schools, so that every health worker, not only vaccinators, have all the facts at their fingertips in order to be advocates for vaccination and vaccines towards their patient.”
According to the Immunization Advisor, vaccination rates of all types dropped during the pandemic but stressed utilising global initiatives like Vaccination Week to help curb that issue a paramount.
“Like in the rest of the Caribbean and in most countries in Latin Americas, yes, vaccination coverage rates have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic. And PAHO continues to work with the Ministry of Health with partners to strengthen not only the immunisation system but taking advantage of events like Vaccination Week in the Americas to fill these most urgent gaps in immunisation coverage.”
Together with the countries and territories of the Region of the Americas and its partners, PAHO celebrates the 21st annual Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) and the 12th World Immunization Week (WIW), which runs from April 22 to 29, 2023, under the call to action: Get up-to-date. #EachVaccineCounts.