The simultaneous immunization weeks, which began in the Americas in 2003, expanded to the European Region in 2005, and start this year in the Eastern Mediterranean, promote national and cross-border activities in a collaborative effort to prevent disease and save lives. Many countries are working to eliminate measles, and most are expanding vaccination to reach those who have been excluded up to now.
Immunization in Europe
In Europe, organizers say, "The European Region is experiencing stalling momentum in meeting the 2010 goal to eliminate measles and rubella. Measles coverage in many western European countries is below the recommended 95% and there are ongoing measles outbreaks in some of these countries. We would like, with Member States' assistance, to take this opportunity to focus on what countries in the Region need to do to achieve the elimination goal."
Immunization in the Eastern Mediterranean
In the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, "Every day, more than 5 500 infants are not fully immunized, amounting to an estimated 2.1 million children not receiving DTP3 vaccine in 2009. Moreover, 25% of underâ?five deaths are attributed to vaccineâ?preventable diseases each year. A large number of child deaths due to pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea can be prevented through vaccination with newly available vaccines."
Immunization in the Americas
In the Americas, regional launching events are being held in border areas of Nicaragua, between Suriname and French Guyana, and between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On the US-Mexico border, a joint event is planned in Las Cruces, New Mexico in conjunction with the launch of US National Infant Immunization Week. The regional goals are to reach children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, elderly populations, border and isolated populations, indigenous populations, and low coverage municipalities.
In addition to vaccinating children and adults and delivering integrated packages of health interventions such as vitamin fortification, countries are planning a variety of activities including workshops, training sessions, social mobilization, round-table discussions, exhibitions and media events addressing vaccine-related issues. Target audiences for various activities include parents, caregivers, health workers, mass media, decision-makers and stakeholders.
Health promotion activities
The WHO Regional Offices of the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean and Europe provide technical support to national health authorities to organize health promotion activities according to national health goals and current epidemiologic evidence. Regional and national partners, including UNICEF provide support in the implementation of the initiative. In addition, presidents and prime ministers, first ladies, health ministers, and ambassadors are lending their support to this important initiative.
Beyond impact on populations through increased immunization rates, the immunization week initiative is intended to communicate the value of immunization and demonstrate WHO leadership in assisting national programmes.
Immunization programmes succeeded in eradicating smallpox from the world ten years after WHO launched an eradication campaign in 1967, when there were more than 2 million deaths from the disease. The successes led WHO to launch its Expanded Programme on Immunization in 1974, credited with saving millions of lives through vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, polio, and yellow fever. Early polio eradication efforts began in the Americas in 1985 and succeeded in 1991, encouraging the global polio eradication initiative which has eliminated polio from all but a handful of countries and reduced cases by 99 percent. Now, initiatives are targeting measles for elimination, and vaccines against measles have saved more than 3.6 million lives and cut cases in Africa by 90%.
Momentum to extend immunization coverage to more people and against more diseases is increasing as new vaccines become available for rotavirus and pneumococcal disease, and research continues on other vaccines.
Decades of experience have shown that investment in immunization pays off in terms of lives saved and illness prevented, and three additional regions - Africa, South-East Asia and Western Pacific - are now studying the possibility of participating in the immunization week initiatives, which supplement routine daily vaccination programs.
According to the latest data, 112 countries and territories are involved in the Vaccination Week initiatives this year, including 44 in the Americas, 22 in the Eastern Mediterranean, and 46 in Europe.