Immunisation must be delivered alongside response to COVID-19 – PAHO Director

DPI, Guyana, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Until a vaccine for coronavirus (COVID-19) is available, immunisation must be delivered by the health care providers alongside the response to the pandemic.

This was asserted by Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.

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Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne

“In 2020 we must approach it [immunisation] with an acute sense of urgency,” she underscored.

Noting that this week (April 25 – May 2) the Region of the Americas celebrates its 18th Vaccination Week, under the theme ‘Love. Trust. Protect, #GetVax.’ Dr. Etienne said it is a time to promote and celebrate the lifesaving power of vaccines

“We must vaccinate to protect health workers, the elderly from other respiratory infections such as influenza which can lead to more hospitalisation and diagnosis in the context of COVID-19.”

She also noted that countries risk outbreaks if they fall behind in their routine immunisation programmes since this can lead to health centres and clinics being overwhelmed with persons suffering from preventable diseases, in addition to COVID-19.

The impact on the health systems would take months or even years to reverse, Dr. Etienne stated.

“This region has shown great capacity to ensure its people are vaccinated. We must maintain this capacity now, but also to ensure the readiness to deliver the vaccine for COVID-19,” she emphasised.

Currently, at least three countries in Latin America are fighting to contain an outbreak of measles. Efforts to prevent this disease must continue amid the COVID pandemic or ‘we risk erasing more than 20 years of progress,’ the PAHO Director pointed out.

Globally, COVID-19 has already impacted immunisation programmes, interrupting supplier routes and reducing the availability of health worker to deliver vaccinations and hindering access to primary care services.

Therefore, Dr. Etienne said a top priority for PAHO is to ensure countries maintain high coverage of key vaccines.

She noted that PAHO is encouraged by the unprecedented collaboration of some of the best minds in the regions and around the world on the development of a vaccine for this novel coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has infected close to 3 million persons worldwide and resulted in the death of over 214,000.

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