(PRESS RELEASE) – Fellow Citizens, St. Lucia joins the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America in celebrating the 18th Vaccination Week of the Americas from Saturday, April 25 to May 2, 2020 under the theme “Love, Trust, Protect… Get Vaccinated.”
This celebration coincides with the World Health Organization’s 9th anniversary of World Immunization Week, with the theme “Vaccines Work for All” aiming to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against diseases. In
light of this, countries are urged to continue their efforts to close the gap that exists in vaccination coverage.
Access to vaccines is a critical component of Universal Health coverage. It fosters a strong and resilient Primary Health care system. It is critical to prevention of many life-threatening diseases, and has proven to be one of the most cost-effective, preventative health interventions.
Critical to any Immunization program is accessibility. Essential vaccines should be easily accessible in all healthcare facilities, and for all providing universal access especially to individuals in hard-to-reach areas and the vulnerable groups in the population.
According to the World Health Organization, “every year, globally, millions of lives are saved through vaccines, however, nearly 20 million children are still unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. Bearing this in mind, Vaccination Week of
the Americas is a time when the countries of the hemisphere work collaboratively to raise awareness on the importance of immunization in health care service delivery. It is a time when a special effort is made to reach out to citizens, ensuring that those who may not readily access health care services such as vaccination, are given the opportunity to do so.
St. Lucia’s Expanded Immunization Program has yielded numerous successes since its commencement in 1977. The program is executed at the various Wellness Centres across the length and breadth of the island, as well as private
sector pediatricians. The service is accessed by target groups via a range of delivery options, namely facility-based vaccination, house-to-house, school- based vaccination and community outreach. The service can also be accessed
through private sector health facilities.
I would like at this point to acknowledge the stakeholders who have and continue to contribute to the successful implementation of the National Immunization program:
• The Prime Minister and the Minister for Health for their commitment and investment in the Immunization Program. In that regard, the government invests almost half a million dollars annually to ensure the continued implementation of the program. This investment underscores their appreciation for the program.
• The general public, particularly parents, for their confidence and trust in the program; and ensuring that every child is covered with the required doses of vaccines and completing timely vaccine schedules.
• The Primary Healthcare Nurses, as well as the five private sector pediatricians who continue to be champions for vaccination and drive the program’s agenda, thus contributing significantly in reducing the burden of vaccine preventable diseases.
• Our internal partners at the Ministry of Health, especially the Bureau of Health education for their continuous support over the years.
• The Ministry of Education, for being a lifelong partner with the Ministry of Health, ensuring that every child in the education system meets the vaccine requirements prior to school entry and also facilitating the school immunization Program.
The population must be protected from the ever-present reality of a potential outbreak of vaccine preventable diseases.
Since the implementation of vaccination strategies, St. Lucia has seen a decline in the incidence of measles and rubella.
Successes of the National Expanded Program on Immunization include:
• No reported cases of measles since 1990
• Last case of rubella appeared in 1996
• Elimination of Diptheria, Haemophilius Influenza and Polio
• Immunization coverage for the past 10 years for infants <1 year has been maintained at approximately 90 – 99%
• DPT/Haemophilius Influenza/Hepatitis B introduced as a pentavalent combination.
• Seasonal Influenza vaccine introduced to at-risk and persons living with chronic diseases
• Documentation and verification of Measles, Rubella and CRS Elimination in St. Lucia in 2011
• Hepatitis B Birth dose introduced in November 2018 towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B
• Introduction of Human Papilloma virus vaccine to Grade 6 girls and boys as a cancer prevention strategy. St. Lucia recorded the highest HPV coverage for the first dose during introduction of the vaccine in the region of the Americas. This is a remarkable achievement, and should be applauded.
• The successful completion of a National Vaccination Campaign in 2019 aimed at vaccinating and improving national vaccination coverage to 95% among children 0- 5 years. It is important to note that though a disease has been declared eliminated in the population, it does not mean that it no longer exists. It simply means that it does not circulate in a specific area. Imported cases always remain a potential threat. It must be noted that despite the successes over the past 43 years, there is still work to be done.
The national EPI program hopes to:
• Close immunization gaps through increased vaccine coverage in areas with below recommended vaccination rates.
• Increase public education geared towards attitude and behavioral change to address vaccine hesitancy which can lead to vaccine acceptance.
• Strengthen the vaccine data management system
• Improve vaccine surveillance
• Conduct more robust tracking of defaulters in schools and communities
• Build stronger intersectoral collaboration
We must continue to engage and remain committed to maintaining high vaccination rates to protect our population.
The Pan American Health Organization continues to recommend increasing and maintaining vaccination coverage of more than 95% of children age 5 years and under in all countries, prioritizing districts and communities which report
Let me direct your attention to our current situation, the COVID-19 pandemic. We are aware that at present, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and that according to the experts, several clinical trials are underway and a vaccine could become available in the not-too-distant future.
We are aware that the pandemic has the potential to significantly impact the routine immunization program. With the current burden of COVID-19 on the health system and the social distancing requirements, the reluctance of people
to seek vaccines can potentially increase; and can result in lower coverage, thereby increasing our risk for re-emergence of diseases which have been eliminated in our population.
The presence of COVID-19 in St. Lucia resulted in several adjustments to our Child Health clinic schedules, and as such has affected the Immunization Program. Effective Tuesday 14 April 2020, ALL Child Health clinics were resumed.
Therefore, parents are encouraged to continue accessing vaccines at their nearest Wellness centre and should call to make an appointment. Vaccination Week of the Americas cannot be celebrated in the manner which was originally planned due to the current public health situation; however, vaccines are still accessible at all wellness centers.
Taking into account that we are still in the Flu season; adults are encouraged to take advantage of the availability of these vaccines to prevent the life- threatening effects of the Influenza virus.
Citizens and residents of St. Lucia, you are encouraged to freely access the health services available to you. In keeping with the COVID-19 protocols, please contact your healthcare provider for an appointment.
Follow all COVID 19 protocols and advisories from the Ministry of Health; and let’s keep healthy and safe.
May God continue to bless us all.
Remember…. LOVE, TRUST, PROTECT…. GET VAX