Regional Health Experts meet in Antigua to discuss falling Vaccination Rates

(Photo by: Marlon Jeffers)

Vaccination experts from across the region are meeting at the Sandals Grande Antigua resort to take a comprehensive look at gains made over the past two years, challenges faced, share experiences and plan activities for 2023.

The 36th meeting of the Caribbean Immunisation Managers, which opened yesterday, comes at a crucial time as health officials strive to restore confidence in the region’s vaccination programmes.

Daniel Salas, Chief of the Comprehensive Family Immunisation Unit for the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), told the opening ceremony that routine vaccination coverage in the Caribbean is falling by its steepest rate in decades, and that immunisation programmes are also struggling.

He said it is crucial for Caribbean vaccination managers to look at how the region can reassure its people that immunisation is a public good and important to public health.

“The region has been a leader in the world in terms of immunisation but right now we are second to the last part. We have the health of our people in our hands, we have the future of many of the children that live in the Caribbean in our hands.

“This is a very important meeting to share our experiences to know where we stand and to look to the future. If we work together that future will be bright,” Salas explained.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Teri-Ann Joseph, said over the years regional experts have used the popular slogan “vaccines save lives” which became very evident during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, despite the successes, people have become more and more apprehensive, she said.

“We grew up in an era where the vaccine was already established, it was there and we already knew it worked. We never had the opportunity to see in real time how vaccines are developed and tested and tried. Now that we have to actually live this experience, naturally people will become apprehensive,” Dr Joseph said.

She said that, going forward, the questions are, how do we face that challenge, how do we get people to trust us again, how do we get people to trust the process again.

“I suspect that there will be a lot of deliberations about that over the next two days. There is a lot for us to learn from each other based on the challenges we have faced over the last two years and prior to that,” Dr Joseph said.

During the three-day meeting, the regional vaccination experts will review the status of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in the Americas and identify areas that require strengthening.

Among other things, they will also discuss the status of various countries’ surveillance mechanisms and management of vaccine-preventable diseases and areas that require strengthening, provide an update on immunisations, and review the status and needs of country EPI programmes following the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines.

The meeting comes to a close on Thursday.

SOURCE: Observer

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