World Immunisation Week will be observed in the last week of this month. The week aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against the various diseases which have been known to cause persons to become ill or die. The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘Protected Together: Vaccines Work!’, and the campaign will celebrate vaccine heroes from around the world – from parents and community members to health workers and innovators – who help ensure we are all protected, at all ages, through the power of vaccines.
It is a fact that immunisation saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are still nearly 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children in the world today. Of these children, one out of 10 never receive any vaccinations, and most likely have never been seen by the health system.
Immunisation is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. In essence, immunisation is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases such as diphtheria, measles, pertussis, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus.
The goal of World Immunisation Week 2019 is to urge greater action on immunisation around the world, with a particular focus on spotlighting the role that everyone can play in this effort, from donors to individuals.
During Vaccination Week, there are a number of activities usually planned in more than 180 countries across the world, including vaccination campaigns, training workshops, round-table discussions, public information campaigns, etc, to raise awareness about the importance of being immunised. Like many other countries, for us in Guyana, this special week provides an opportunity to remind families and communities in general how effective vaccines can be, and to encourage people to take action to ensure that more children, and increasingly people in other age groups, are immunised against deadly and debilitating diseases.
The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) – endorsed by 194 Member States of the World Health Assembly in May 2012 – aims to prevent millions of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases by 2020 through universal access to immunisation. Despite improvements in individual countries and a strong global rate of new vaccine introduction, all of the GVAP targets for disease elimination – including measles, rubella, and maternal and neonatal tetanus – are behind schedule, according to the WHO.
In order for everyone, everywhere to survive and thrive, countries must make more concerted efforts to reach GVAP goals by 2020. Additionally, those countries that have achieved or made progress towards achieving the goals must work to sustain those efforts over time – so that no person goes without life-saving vaccines.
To achieve the kind of progress that is needed, the WHO has urged that governments invest more in immunisation efforts, advocates must make vaccines a priority, and people must get themselves and their families vaccinated.
Countries are also being urged to reach more children missed by the routine delivery systems, especially those living in countries, districts or areas where less than 80 per cent of persons are receiving vaccines or those living in countries affected by conflicts or emergencies.
That said, Guyana’s immunisation programme has been largely successful and has resulted in the eradication of illnesses such as polio, yellow fever, and measles among others diseases. We urge all stakeholders to utilise World Vaccination Week which is dedicated to immunisation to spread the message of the need to be vaccinated, especially in Guyana’s remote areas where health officials still seem to be facing some challenges.
We believe that the vaccination targets are achievable, but every stakeholder, including donors, health professionals, community leaders, school administrators and others must continue to treat the issue of immunisation seriously. There can be no room for complacency or we risk having the gains made thus far being reversed.