(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – DIRECTOR of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne is prodding regional governments to maintain routine vaccination programmes amid growing COVID-19 cases, warning that faltering could lead to other disease outbreaks, resulting in health systems buckling.
“This week, however, is vaccination week in the Americas; it is time to promote and celebrate the life-saving power of vaccines. And, in 2020, we approach it with an acute sense of urgency – until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available, immunisations can and must be delivered by the health services alongside the response to COVID-19,” Dr Etienne said while addressing a weekly virtual briefing hosted by PAHO yesterday.
“This is why, first we must vaccinate to protect health workers, the elderly and other vulnerable populations from other respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumococcus, which can lead to more hospitalisations and may be harder to diagnose in the context of COVID-19. Secondly, if we fall behind on routine vaccinations, particularly for children, we risk outbreaks, thus overwhelming hospitals and clinics with preventable diseases in addition to COVID-19,” she pointed out.
According to the PAHO director, were this to happen, “the impact on our health system would take months or even years to reverse”.
“This region has shown great capacity to ensure that its people are vaccinated and we must [not only] maintain this capacity now, but also…ensure the readiness to deliver the vaccine for COVID-19. History has shown us that after wars or epidemics, if we allow large gaps in immunisation coverage, vaccine-preventable diseases like polio and measles can re-emerge,” she added.
In the meantime, Dr Etienne pointed out that even though measles was eliminated in the region in 2016, as coverage rates dropped, outbreaks were seen in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and in a few states in the United States.
“As we speak, at least three countries are working to contain measles outbreaks in Latin America. Efforts to contain measles must continue safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or we risk erasing more than 20 years of progress,” she stated.