April 21-28, 2012 marks the first-ever World Immunization Week – a coordinated event involving all six regions of the World Health Organization (WHO), its member states, GAVI, UNICEF, the U.N. Foundation, and a growing number of organizations and individuals who support immunization around the world. It will involve everything from high-level launch ceremonies to festivals and photography exhibits to a “blog carnival.”
While World Immunization Week largely is intended to focus attention on the importance and benefits of immunization and secure political commitment to it, many countries use it as an occasion to intensify vaccination activities in particular places or for specific populations.
The experience from the Americas, conducting its 10th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) this April, is instructive. Advocacy and large-scale communication efforts to reinvigorate interest in immunization have been a hallmark of each year’s VWA, with a common motto extending across countries; for 2012, it is: “For you, for me, for everyone. Get vaccinated.” But VWA has also included selective immunization activities that have varied, by year, according to country and regional needs. A few examples include:
Vast numbers of people have been immunized during VWA, with the figures reflecting the particular strategies implemented in a given year: over 16 million people in 2003; almost 60 million in 2008; and 42 million in 2011.
Other regions have adapted the concept of immunization week to their own needs and existing immunization strategies. European Immunization Week, first conducted in 2007, has promoted immunization widely but has also focused on engaging and vaccinating those who tend to refuse vaccination services. It has also expanded efforts to reach marginalized populations, such as the Roma in some eastern European countries. In the more recently-introduced immunization weeks in the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa regions, the focus has been on advocacy and communication.
World Immunization Week comes at a time when there has been remarkable progress in immunization. But with that progress has come attendant challenges:
Behind these statistics are the lives of individual families—and the efforts of the health workers who vaccinate them. World Immunization Week will shine a light on their work and step up activities to expand vaccination efforts. But to ensure the full benefits of immunization become a reality—that timely, high-quality services are provided, new vaccines successfully introduced, and mortality reductions sustained—will take ongoing commitment during the other 51 weeks of the year.
In honor of World Immunization Week, please take a moment to read a document highlighting lessons learned in strengthening routine immunization.
Immunization Advisor, MCHIP