Phipps officially opens vaccination week observances
The following is the address to officially open the 16th Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) and the 7th World Immunization Week by the Hon. Wendy C. Phipps, minister of state with responsibility for health, social services, community development and gender affairs:
Fellow citizens and residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:
St. Kitts and Nevis joins other territories in the Caribbean, Latin America and North America in the celebration of the 16th Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) April 21-April 28 under the theme “#GetVax”/ “#VaccinesWork.”
According to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), this year’s celebration of Vaccination Week in the Americas also coincides with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 7th Anniversary of World Immunization Week that is being observed globally April 24-30 under the theme “Protected Together, #VaccinesWork.” As with all of our previous national promotions on the benefits of vaccination, this year’s awareness campaign will again seek to encourage our people to protect our health and the health of our loved ones by getting vaccinated. In this way, we can help to close the gaps in global immunization coverage.
Both PAHO and the WHO have confirmed that there are [more than] 25 diseases that are vaccine-preventable. As such, vaccination or immunization coverage should be actively pursued by our global populations and their respective governments in order to protect us from infection, and allow us to remain healthy and lead full and productive lives for as long as possible.
St. Kitts and Nevis has had a long track record of vaccination use and advocacy that dates back to the 1800s. Our national records illustrate that it was during that period when a smallpox vaccination programme was carried out in our islands by the British settlers. [More than] 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. These vaccines include Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Tetanus, Hepatitis B, Oral Polio and BCG. Our country’s current vaccine coverage remains at an average of 98 percent of our target population.
Later this year, the Ministry of Health intents to introduce two new vaccines. These are the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine for children who have not yet entered adolescence or teenage years; and the Influenza vaccine for high risk populations such as the elderly, port health workers, general health care workers and [people] with chronic conditions. We would wish the public to note, however, that the Haemophilus Influenza Type B vaccine to prevent meningitis and pneumonia in children has been routinely administered in the federation since the year 2000. This is given to infants in three doses – at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months.
The Ministry of Health in St. Kitts and Nevis intends to use Vaccination Week in the Americas to sensitize our people to the benefits of vaccination, including these factual messages:
- Vaccines save lives. They also prevent illness and disability
- Global vaccination coverage has remained steady at 86 percent
- 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
- An estimated 19.5 million infants worldwide do not get treated with the most basic vaccines. (This figure, however, is an improvement over the past 17 years, when almost 34 million children were not being vaccinated.)
- Approximately 86 percent of the world’s infants (116.5 million infants) received three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine. This increased coverage translates into 130 countries worldwide reaching almost 90% coverage of the DTP3 vaccine.
Since the 1970s, the federation has had successful, overall immunization coverage, which is due to several factors, including the following:
- Public confidence and support placed in our national immunization programme
- The solid foundation laid by committed, well-trained and professional public health nurses
- Strong and clear governmental support
- Reliable and strategic partnerships between public health care administrators, civil society, and international donor agencies such as PAHO and WHO
- Continuing public education and awareness of our people on the merits of vaccination.
The following facts also testify to the ongoing achievements insofar as our national 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
- The ministry has already begun work on the introduction of an Electronic Immunization Registry, which is a PAHO commitment
- In 2018, the federation placed second in the Caribbean Region for Immunization Surveillance
- In 2018, the Henry C. Smith Cup was presented to St. Kitts and Nevis for having the most improved Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in the region during the past year. Smith was the first PAHO-EPI technical officer to for the Caribbean Sub-region, and served in this field for 18 years.
Yet, in spite of these sustained achievements in vaccination coverage at our local level, a number of challenges are yet to be confronted if improvements in our immunization record are to be realised across the globe. These challenges are as follows:
- Strong health systems
- Access to vaccines in all places at all times
- Community involvement
- Better access to immunization services for marginalized and displaced populations, such as migrants, refugees and indigent groups.
Every effort must be made to close the immunization gaps in order to achieve health care for all, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For us here in St. Kitts and Nevis, this calls for us to do our part in
- encouraging parents and guardians to vaccinate their infants and school-aged children
- ensuring that there is adequate governmental support to finance our national immunization programme
- protecting our citizens before they travel abroad to areas where certain diseases are prevalent
- protecting our borders 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
The Federal Ministry of Health is also concerned about unaccounted vaccine coverage that is being practiced by some private sector health care providers. In such cases, the ministry can neither guarantee the effectiveness of the vaccines nor the management of the cold chain (required vaccine storage in the private sector setting). Vaccine refusals among certain activist groups are also of concern to the ministry, given that children in such families lack the necessary immunization coverage in their formative years. Vaccination refusals also contribute to denial of university admissions later in life, given that proper vaccination records are compulsory for some student visa applications for North America, Canada and parts of Europe. The Federal Ministry of Health cannot and will not falsify vaccination records in order to assist such students and their families who are confronted with such educational difficulties.
A number of activities have been planned locally to celebrate Vaccination Week in the Americas 2018. These include the following:
- April 23-27: Sensitization sessions at the health centres and hospitals regarding the introduction of the HPV vaccine
- April 23-27: Administration of Influenza vaccine to at-risk groups, including the elderly, people with chronic conditions, pregnant women and health care workers
- April 23-27: “Mop Up” campaign at all health centres to get children aged 1-5 years old brought up to date with Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine immunization coverage
- April 24, 26:Re-sensitization programme on Hepatitis B vaccine, cold chain management, and elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV, Tuberculosis and Congenital Syphilis (JNF General Hospital Classroom)
I encourage every citizen and resident of St. Kitts and Nevis to support the various activities planned for the observance of Vaccination Week in the Americas 2018. The Ministries of Health in the federation also encourage citizens and residents to feel empowered to freely access the services of our federation’s 17 health centres, where our district medical officers (DMOs) and community based nurses would welcome the opportunity to respond to your needs, and answer any health-related questions you may have.
As minister of state with responsibility for health, social services, community development and gender affairs, I am pleased to declare Vaccination Week in the Americas 2018 officially open.
May God bless us all with good health and holistic wellness.
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