Wednesday, 22 April 2015 - Prompted by a measles outbreak in Venezuela and Colombia in 2002, the health ministers of countries in the Andean region of South America proposed an annual Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA). In September 2003, VWA was accepted as an annual, hemispheric initiative, by the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization, with the adoption of Resolution CD44.R1.

The principles underlying Vaccination Week in the Americas are equity, access, and Pan-Americanism. The primary objectives of the initiative are to strengthen the regular immunization programs in the Americas and to identify and reach populations who are most at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases, due to their lack of access to immunization services. Nineteen countries participated in the 1st VWA in 2003, the primary focus of which was measles elimination.

Since then during the last week of April each year countries of the Americas have been observing VWA and it has grown to become the largest multi-country health effort in the Western Hemisphere.  Over the past twelve years, than 400 million individuals have been vaccinated under the initiative's framework.

The success of VWA has served as a model for other Regions of the World Health Organization in the implementation of their own regional vaccination week initiatives and in 2012, following a resolution to the World Health Assembly initiated by Barbados and supported by Jamaica and other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, the first ever celebration of World Immunization Week (WIW) occurred; ten years after VWA began in the Americas.

2015 marks the 12th year that Jamaica is observing Vaccination Week in the Americas.  The country continues to use the opportunity to build public awareness on the benefits of vaccination and to improve the coverage of the antigens given through media placement of messages, printing and dissemination of educational materials and increased clinic and community vaccination sessions.

Vaccination is an act of love, shared responsibility and boosts the power of children in fighting diseases.

Immunization Milestones - Jamaica

1800-1940s 

  • Life expectancy at birth was 38 years
  • Infant mortality was 100-200 per 1,000 live births
  • Infections including vaccine preventable diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, measles, polio, diphtheria, , etc. were the leading cause of death

1950s-1960s

  • Frequent outbreaks of polio and measles with case fatality rates ranging from 5-12%
  • Use of vaccines to control outbreaks
  • Annual mass immunization campaigns in children under age 5 years but with low coverage of around 30%
  • Small pox vaccination
  • Reduction in mortality from some infectious diseases due to improvement in sanitation and nutrition
  • Life expectancy at birth was 53 years
  • Infant mortality was 49 per 1,000 live births

1970s-1980s

  • School immunization programmes with focus on rubella vaccination for girls in the early to mid 1970s
  • Establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) by the World Health Organization
  • Establishment of a national surveillance system including for vaccine preventable diseases in 1976
  • Establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean in September 1977
  • First group of vaccines administered under the EPI programme were diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, BCG and polio
  • Annual mass immunization campaigns with increasing coverage for polio from 24% in 1974 to 45% in 1981
  • Measles vaccine introduced in 1980
  • Major polio outbreak in 1982 with 60 confirmed cases. Of these, 3 died, 18 were partially disabled, 27 permanently paralyzed and 12 recovered.
  • Mass polio campaign for the entire country targeting persons under 30 years old. Coverage in children 0-14 years was 70%.  The management of the outbreak cost the country some JA$4M
  • Last reported case of polio in 1982
  • Promulgation of Immunization Regulations in 1986
  • Establishment of a Rubella Unit at Salvation Army to manage children born blind due to congenital rubella syndrome.

1990s-2000

  • Measles outbreak with some 13,000 cases and 18 deaths from 1989-1991
  • Last case of local measles in Jamaica in 1991
  • MMR vaccine introduced in 1993
  • Outbreaks of rubella in 1991, 1995 and 1997
  • Mass campaigns with MMR vaccine to eliminate measles and rubella
  • Last case of diphtheria in 1995
  • Last case of congenital rubella syndrome in 1998
  • Last case of rubella in 2000
  • Chronic non-communicable diseases now the leading cause of death in Jamaica
  • Infant mortality now at 24 per 1,000 live births
  • Average immunization coverage increased to 89% for children under 2 years
  • Closure of the Salvation Army’s Rubella Unit 

2001-2012

  • Last case of newborn tetanus in 2001
  • Introduction of vaccines against Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b
  • Importations of measles cases but with no local transmission or outbreaks
  • Introduction and annual observation of Vaccination Week in the Americas
  • Average immunization coverage continued to increase to 93-94% for children under 2 years in 2010-2011
  • Documentation and verification of elimination of measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in Jamaica- July 2011
  • Jamaica wins PAHO Caribbean EPI award in recognition of excellent effort to improve the Immunization programme