Address to Officially OpenThe 17th VACCINATION WEEK IN THE AMERICAS (VWA)& THE 8TH WORLD IMMUNIZATION WEEK (Sunday, April 21st, 2019)

Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:

St. Kitts and Nevis – in line with other Caribbean, North American and Latin American countries – is observing the 17th Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) from Saturday, April 20th to Saturday, April 27th 2019, under the theme “Protect Your Community. Do Your Part. #GetVax”.

This year’s celebration of Vaccination Week in the Americas – being led by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) – coincides with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 8th Anniversary of World Immunization Week that is being globally observed from April 24-30, 2019, under the theme “Protected Together: Vaccines Work”. According to the WHO, the 2019 observance of World Immunization Week is also meant to celebrate the achievements of “Vaccine Heroes” from around the world. These heroes include parents, nurses, doctors and community health workers. As with all prior national promotions on the benefits of vaccination, this year’s awareness campaigns of the WHO and PAHO will again seek to encourage our people to protect their health and that of our loved ones by getting vaccinated. The campaign is also intended to (a) help close the gaps in global immunization coverage; (b) advocate for the transition from childhood immunization to immunization throughout the life course; and (c) promote access to and equity in vaccination for all people, regardless of their age or socio-economic status.

For some time, both the WHO and the PAHO have declared that there are over 25 vaccine-preventable diseases known to man. As a result of this, it behooves governments, parents, and stakeholders in the global healthcare industry to consistently promote immunization. In so doing, we will protect global citizens from diseases and infections while helping to improve their standard and quality of life. The WHO notes that in 2017 the world recorded its highest ever immunization rate among children, totaling some 116.2 million. The premier global health authority also states that over the past nine (9) years some 113 countries have introduced new vaccines, during which time well over 20 million additional children have been vaccinated. This is good news! Yet, this must be weighed against the slippage that has occurred over the past two (2) years in terms of the disease elimination targets for certain vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles, maternal and neonatal tetanus, and rubella (German measles). One only has to appreciate the fact that over 17,000 cases of measles have occurred in 10 countries within the Americas region since 2017 and one would conclude that the region is experiencing a measles outbreak. One of the most glaring examples of this outbreak is the increase in cases of measles within the USA over the past several months, during which time well over 500 cases of measles have spread over 25 States. The highest number of cases appears to be in New York.

As I would have noted in previous addresses for Vaccination Week in the Americas and World Immunization Week, St. Kitts and Nevis has had a long track record of vaccination use and advocacy dating back to the 1800s. Our medical archives illustrate that it was during that period when a smallpox vaccination programme was carried out in our islands by the British settlers. Well over 100 years later, a total of 11 vaccines are now routinely administered to our people as part of our Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) which was established in 1978. Some of these vaccines are given to prevent Diphtheria; Pertussis (Whooping Cough); Tetanus; Hepatitis B; Oral Polio; BCG; and Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). Our Country’s current vaccine coverage remains at an average of 98% of our target population.

In 2018, the Ministry of Health introduced the Influenza vaccine for high risk populations such as the elderly, Port Health workers, general health care workers and persons with chronic conditions. However, since 2000 the Haemophilus Influenza Type B vaccine has been administered locally to prevent meningitis and pneumonia in children. It is the Ministry’s intention to make available later this year the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine – for boys and girls in the 6th grades of both the public and private schools. This quadrivalent vaccine – Gardasil – is designed to address HPV types 6 and 11, and types 16 and 18, and will be available free of cost through the school health programme. It will be administered in two doses which will be given six (6) months apart. It should be noted that the HPV vaccine is intended to protect children from the HPV virus that causes cancers of throat, and reproductive tract and organs, such as the penis, cervix, throat, vagina and vulva.

The Ministries of Health in St. Kitts and Nevis intend to use Vaccination Week in the Americas to sensitize and re-sensitize our people to the benefits of vaccination. The following factual messages will be emphasized during the campaign:

 Vaccines save lives, and prevent illness and disability;
 Global vaccination coverage has remained steady at 86%;
 Vaccinations prevent an average of 2 to 3 million deaths per year from conditions such as Tetanus, Measles, Pertussis and Pneumonia;
 Some 1.5 million lives could be spared if global vaccination coverage improves;
 Routine immunization is the backbone of resilient health systems and strong universal health coverage.
 Since the 1970s the Federation has had successful immunization coverage, which is due to several key factors, such as:
1) Public confidence and support placed in our national immunization programme;
2) The solid foundation laid by committed, well-trained and professional public health nurses;
3) Strong and clear governmental support;
4) Reliable and strategic partnerships between public health care administrators, civil society, and international donor agencies such as PAHO and WHO; and
5) Continuing public education and awareness of our people on the benefits of vaccination.
The following facts also testify to our ongoing national achievements insofar as our immunization programme is concerned:
 Since 1956 there have been no confirmed cases of locally acquired Poliomyelitis;
 Since 1984 there have been no confirmed cases of locally acquired measles or rubella;
 In 2015, there was a re-introduction of the birth dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine; and
 The Ministry is fully engaged in the project to introduce an
Electronic Immunization Registry – a PAHO commitment;

It must be noted, however, that in spite of the gains achieved over the past 62 years of immunization in our Federation, there is still much ground to cover, largely due to a number of challenges that must be addressed at the international level. These challenges include:
1) Closing of immunization gaps;
2) Development of strong health systems;
3) Access to vaccines by everyone, in all places and at all times;
4) Community involvement;
5) Better access to immunization services for marginalized and displaced populations, such as migrants, refugees and indigent groups; and
6) Attitudinal change and behaviour modification by the ‘antivaccine’ movement wherein parents refuse vaccination of their children only to regret it later on – as is the current case of the measles outbreak in New York among certain ethnic and religious groups; and
7) Border protection by ensuring that minimum vaccination standards are maintained by travelers seeking to access our ports of entry for purposes of work, leisure or medical tourism.

A number of activities have been planned locally to celebrate Vaccination Week in the Americas 2019. Among these activities and programmes which cover the period Sunday, April 21st to Friday, April 26th are the following:
 HPV Vaccine Promotion and Sensitization at Prenatal and Child Health Clinics (Tuesday, April 23rd to Thursday, April 25th)
 Health Education on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Vector borne Diseases (Tuesday, April 23rd to Friday, April 26th)
 Health Education on Vaccination Schedule in Nurseries, PreSchools and Daycare Centres (Tuesday, April 23rd to Friday,
April 26th)
 “Mop-Up” Vaccination Campaign to Address Defaulter Children up to the age of 5 years (Tuesday, April 23rd to Friday, April 26th)
 Measles Simulation Presentation to Healthcare Workers in Nevis (Tuesday, April 23rd)

Our Nation’s Community Nurses and Environmental Health Officers will be the key personnel responsible for most of these activities marking Vaccination Week in the Americas 2019. The Ministries of Health commend them for their efforts.

Every citizen and resident of St. Kitts and Nevis is encouraged to support the various activities planned in observance of Vaccination Week in the Americas 2019. The Ministries of Health encourage citizens and residents to freely access the health services of our Federation’s 17 health centres, where our District Medical Officers (DMOs) and community-based nurses are ready to assist persons in need. They welcome the opportunity to respond to your healthrelated questions and concerns.

As Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs, I am pleased to declare the local observances for Vaccination Week in the Americas 2019 officially open.

May God bless us all with good health and well-being.

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