Puno, Peru, 26 April 2011 - The Director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Dr. Mirta Roses, arrived at the border of Peru and Bolivia today to participate in the regional launch of Vaccination Week in the Americas.

With the slogan, "Vaccinate your family, protect your community," the 9th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas seeks to strengthen immunization programs to protect children, adolescents, adults and the elderly against preventable diseases.

"Vaccination is the right of every family and an essential tool for preventing many devastating diseases. During its nine-year history in the Americas, Vaccination Week has become a key initiative that emphasizes the extraordinary importance of vaccination to public health," said Dr. Roses.

Since the first Vaccination Week in the Americas was launched in 2003, more than 323 million people have been vaccinated within the framework of the initiative against diseases including measles, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, flu, diphtheria and tetanus, among others.

"I wish to congratulate our health workers on their indefatigable efforts during Vaccination Week and throughout the year to find and vaccinate vulnerable populations in all corners of the Americas," said Dr. Roses. "I hope we continue to forge partnerships in border areas to obtain better health for our populations."

The launch took place in the town of Kasani, about 10 minutes from Yunguyo, in Peru's Puno department, and 20 minutes from Copacabana, in the department of Manco Capac, Bolivia.

Vaccination Week in the Americas was originally an initiative of the ministers of health of the Andean region, begun in response to a measles outbreak in Colombia and Venezuela. Today, with the support and participation of PAHO/WHO member countries throughout the Americas, the initiative has expanded its goal of reaching the most vulnerable and remote communities, including indigenous people, border and isolated communities, and marginalized urban groups.

The countries of the Americas have been world leaders in eliminating or reducing vaccine-preventable diseases. The region was the first to eradicate smallpox (in 1971) and to eliminate polio (in 1991). Despite these successes, many children in the Americas have not completed their vaccine schedules, and hard-to-reach populations continue to have lower rates of coverage.

Vaccination Week in the Americas this year coincides with National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) in the United States, National Immunization Awareness Week in Canada (NIAW), the sixth European Immunization Week (EIW), the second Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean (VWEM) and the first vaccination weeks in the regions of Africa and the Western Pacific.

As a technical cooperation agency, PAHO supports its member countries in organizing and carrying out Vaccination Week in the Americas, through planning, resource mobilization, social media campaigns, procurement of vaccines and medical supplies, and evaluation of activities.