‘Vaccines save lives, strengthen societies and shape the future of human health’

Address by Antigua and Barbuda’s Principal Nursing Officer, Ms Margaret Smith at the opening ceremony, Vaccination Week in the Americas, April 24th, 2017

Madam Chairman

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health and the Environment

Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health and the Environment

Mr. Reynold Hewitt, Country representative Pan American Health Organization

Ms. Orita Zachariah, Medical Officer of Health

Mrs. Phillipa Roberts, Acting Superintendent of Public health Nurses

Technical Officer in the Ministry of Health

Other Ministry of Health Officials

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning

am delighted to give these brief remarks to help launch Immunization Week in the Americas April 22nd to 29th. This week marks the 15th year of celebrating this remarkable success and achievements in Immunization in the Americas. This event is also been celebrated in other regions of the world to include Africa, Asia, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, among others. All of these regions have drawn on the experiences of the Americas to develop similar initiatives to promote equity and access to vaccines, strengthen their vaccination programmes and identify and reach those who do not or are unable to access health services and thus are at the greatest risk for developing vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), few interventions have had a greater impact on the global public than vaccines and few development programmes today, offer a more cost-effective way to save lives, strengthen societies and shape the future of human health.

Immunization programmes in the Americas have made enormous strides in reducing morbidity and mortality caused by vaccine-preventable diseases. It has been estimated that more than half of the reductions in childhood mortality in Latin America and Caribbean countries are attributable to immunization. But the reality is, that the work is far from finished. This is because across the world, 22.6 million children still miss basic vaccines and some 1.5 million die each year from diseases vaccines could have easily prevented, according to the United Nations children Fund (UNICEF) 2015.

UNICEF further reports that although the gains made in the high vaccine coverage levels of most countries and based on what we just heard from the acting Superintendent of Public Health Nurses, we can say this includes Antigua and Barbuda, gaps still exist. Our overall vaccination coverage based on the latest data is above 97%. Compared to WHO’s recommended standard for coverage of > 90%, this is quite remarkable.

But the same cannot be said of all countries of the Americas where coverage for some antigens is considerably less than the recommended standard. According to the World Health Organization, inadequate immunization coverage rate usually results from limited resources, competing health priorities, poor management of health systems and inadequate surveillance.

Within Antigua and Barbuda’s context, factors which contribute to our achievement in routine vaccination coverage include the Ministry of Health and by extension of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s sustained commitment over the years to provide funding for our immunization programme as well as for vaccines.

Credit must also go to our collaboration and cooperation with regional and international partners to include member states of the Caribbean Community and Pan American Health Organization who provide both financial and technical support for our immunization programme.

And of no small importance is the tireless efforts of the frontline health workers and support staff, especially our Public Health nurses and other nurses working in the Community Clinics, whose responsibility it is to administer vaccines within the public sector which provides by far the largest amount of coverage, as well as Community Health Aides and support staff such as the bus drivers who play an important role in transporting the vaccines to the various clinics around the country. Often, they work under difficult conditions and circumstances. Let us put our hands together and give these individuals a round of applause for their contribution to this tremendous achievement.

So, as we celebrate Vaccination Week 2017 under the theme get vaccinated for a healthy tomorrow, we must ask ourselves, what will it take to continue to maintain our high vaccination coverage, while at the same time fill the existing gaps by reach the unreached even though the number appears to be relatively small.

First, we must continue to integrate immunization with other health services to reduce any missed opportunities to identify defaulters and the unreached and bring them into the fold by organizing more outreach immunization sessions and provide health education on the importance of immunization and other health behaviours.

Second, we must seek to further strengthen our immunization delivery system to improve vaccine delivery. We must reach every child in every community, in every village, and in all of society with the right vaccine, at the right time and in the right condition.

Thirdly, we must ensure that adequate resources both human and material are allocated to our immunization programme. In relation to human resources, we must ensure that we have adequate numbers of nurses with the right skill-sets, who are competent, motivated and appropriately deployed within the community health services. These include Public Health Nurses and advanced practice nurses to include family nurse practitioners. I must especially emphasize this last category, as they are critical not only in relation to our expanded programme of immunization, but also for the operationalization of the whole concept of universal access and universal coverage, as well as the Sustainable Development Goal especially Goal #3 – the health and well-being of all people and its related targets.

We also must seek to strengthen our vaccine policies in a way that will maintain maximum coverage as well as strengthen our surveillance, data management system and quality assurance mechanisms which are critical for evidence-based decision making.

The Ministry of Health also must continue to provide a sustained budget to fund our national EPI programme and We must continue to build public trust in immunization through outreach at the community level in every clinic in every community. It is imperative that we make the reopening of clinics that are currently closed – Cobbs Cross, Pears, John Hughes and of course Judges Hill a priority, as their reopening will help to enhance equity in access to vaccine services in these communities.

We also must continue to build parent’s confidence in vaccines and encourage them to play their part by bringing their children to vaccine sessions at the clinics, thus adhering to the national schedule.

Lastly, and by no means the least we must continue to increase awareness and understanding, openly sharing information, and opening up public discussion on immunization safety, quality, importance and benefits.

And we must keep up the vaccination campaign during and outside of annual vaccination week, in order to reach every child, as only by doing so will we be able to eradicate the over 20 deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.

Let me take this opportunity to wish us all a successful vaccination campaign this vaccination week 2017.

Thank you

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