(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana – Thursday, 4 May 2023): – Caribbean Ministers of Health have committed to evidence-informed measures to strengthen national immunisation programmes through the signing of the “Declaration of Nassau: Reinvigorating the National Immunization Programmes of the Caribbean”.
Ministers agreed to the Declaration during the 29th Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) Health, held on 26 April in Nassau, The Bahamas.
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “Almost one in ten children under the age of one year (over 11,000) in the Caribbean do not receive all of their routine vaccination doses, leaving them susceptible to diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and diphtheria”.
The Declaration, signed on the occasion of the 21st Vaccination Week in the Americas, commits governments to ensure that immunisation returns to the forefront of countries’ health policy agendas through political visibility and sustainable financing.
During the meeting, Ms. Alison Drayton, Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat, raised the alarm about the declining rates of routine national childhood immunisation.
“Another disconcerting health issue for us at this time is the declining rates in our national childhood vaccination”, stated the Assistant Secretary-General, “I am aware that some Member States have started robust interventions to address this issue, but we will need to accelerate these efforts to avert the possible consequences of declining immunisation rates”.
“Over the decades, PAHO has worked hand-in-hand with Caribbean Member States to eradicate smallpox and polio, and to end endemic transmission of measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome and other preventable diseases,” stated Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director, in his address to the meeting.
Dr. Barbosa highlighted the importance of maintaining these gains given the “great risk of the re-emergence of diseases which had already been eliminated from our Region.”
“Historically, immunisation coverage in the Caribbean has been high, but this has been declining in recent years,” added Dr. Karen Broome, Immunization Advisor, Caribbean Sub-region, PAHO, “The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already concerning situation, leaving gaps in human, financial and material resources within countries’ immunisation programmes.”
In response, the Declaration of Nassau proposes to strengthen national immunisation programmes using evidence-informed interventions, including prioritising immunity gaps among children, older persons, pregnant women, persons with pre-existing conditions, health workers and those living in situations of vulnerability.
It also advocates for countries to maintain the regional targets for the control and elimination of Polio, Measles, Rubella, Tetanus, Hepatitis B, Bacterial Meningitis and Cervical Cancer and recommends developing policies and strategies to address vaccine hesitancy and infodemics.
Reiterating PAHO’s commitment to increase immunisation coverage, Dr. Barbosa highlighted a joint initiative between PAHO and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to utilise refunds from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to help support routine vaccination for Member States. This will provide critical support for implementing initiatives outlined in the Declaration.
“The Caribbean has long been a leader in public health in several key areas,” said the PAHO Director. “I look forward to strengthening our work with you in the coming years as we address the major public health challenges.”
DECLARATION OF NASSAU: REINVIGORATING THE NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMS OF THE CARIBBEAN
We, the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) – Health at the 29th Special Meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, on 26 April 2023, on the occasion of the 21st Annual Vaccination Week in the Americas 2023;
Aware that, in 2021, more than 11,000 children younger than one (1) year in the Caribbean (almost one in ten) did not receive all their vaccine doses, leaving them susceptible to diseases such as Polio, Tetanus, Measles and Diphtheria.”
Conscious of the impending crisis generated by these historically low vaccination coverage rates reported over the last ten (10) years;
Impelled by the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the Region of the Americas, which now stands at its highest point in the last 30 years;
Fully convinced that Governments must return their immunisation programs to the top of the political agenda to better tackle the challenges the pandemic has brought forth;
1. Our unequivocal commitment to strengthen the national immunisation programs of the Caribbean through political visibility and sustainable financing.
2. Our promise to maintain the regional targets for the control or elimination of Polio, Measles, Rubella, Tetanus, Hepatitis B, Bacterial Meningitis and Cervical Cancer.
3. Our commitment to close the most urgent immunity gaps, especially among the elderly, pregnant women, persons with comorbidities, health workers and persons living in situation of vulnerability.
4. Our intent to develop policies and identify strategies to address vaccine hesitancy and infodemics for the population at large, using an evidence-based approach.
5. That we will work with professional health associations and academia to provide periodic training to all categories of health workers on the essential elements of the vaccination program, so they can promote vaccines to their patients in all confidence.