Over the past few decades, vaccines have played a pivotal role in raising the quality of life for millions of people. Immunisation programmes have prevented potentially devastating childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis and polio.
Consequently, as we observe the ninth annual Vaccination Week in the Americas between 23 and 30 April, we have many reasons to celebrate.
This year, the Caribbean celebrates its 20th year without an indigenous case of the measles and its eighth year without an indigenous case of rubella. Here in the Cayman Islands, more than 60 years of immunisation efforts have eliminated neonatal tetanus, haemophilus influenza type b infections, mumps and TB meningitis and several communicable diseases such as small pox and Polio.
Immunisation indeed represents an important investment in the health of people everywhere. Worldwide immunisation programmes prevent more than 3 million deaths annually.
But apart from preventing human suffering and disability, vaccination programmes also make sound economic sense. A recent cost-benefit analysis in the United States indicated that for every dollar invested in a vaccine dose, authorities save up to US$27 in health expenses. Regional studies exhibit the same trend: To treat a case of rotavirus gastroenteritis in Latin American and Caribbean countries costs an average of US$3,000 per patient, while the vaccination costs only US$24 per dose.
Here in the Cayman Islands, we are fortunate to have an excellent Public Health Department with dedicated staff to implement robust and up-to-date vaccination schedules. Officials follow the Pan American Health Organisation’s Expanded Program of Immunisation guidelines in scheduling local immunisation campaigns and run a relevant and modern vaccination programme. Furthermore, all vaccines are offered to residents free of charge.
Local statistics show that immunisation coverage for infants is 90 percent for most vaccines and 97 per cent of children entering primary school are fully immunized. However, public health officials around the world are noticing a worrying trend where some parents are opting out of immunization programmes, thus exposing their children to infectious diseases.
So, while we use this week to celebrate our vaccination successes, we must also see it as a call to action. I urge parents and guardians to ensure that their children’s immunizations are up-to-date. As this year’s theme states: Vaccinate your Family, Protect your Community. Let’s make sure that we do not fall short.
Minister of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture