NEW CANAAN, CT, April 26, 2004—As “Vaccination Week” in the Americas unfolds this week, the Sabin Vaccine Institute joins with the international sponsors in declaring the need for a reduction in immunization inequities among children and women who have never been vaccinated. The week of community awareness activities and national immunization campaigns opened April 24 with a regional launch in the small village of Fond Parisien, Haiti, where local children received life-saving vaccinations. Looking on were delegates from countries throughout the Hemisphere, including the ministers of health from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti; organizers from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and representatives from non-governmental organizations, including Sabin Vaccine Institute President Dean Mason.

“Vaccination Week in the Americas shines the spotlight on the ongoing need for better access to vaccines by the vulnerable around the world who need them,” said Mason. “We in the United States boast a high rate of immunization and consequently a low infant mortality rate and generally good health as a country. There are populations within countries not that far from us where infectious diseases take a toll despite the existence of vaccines that could save lives if better access were provided. I am hopeful that this week of focus on disease prevention by vaccines will heighten support for effective immunization programs.”

In the Haiti-Dominican border region where the launch event took place, it is difficult for children to receive routine immunization against vaccine preventable diseases. During Vaccination Week, some 40 million persons in 35 countries across North and South America will be immunized against childhood diseases such as measles and tetanus—diseases that remain some of the world’s most deadly. Campaigns will include vaccination against polio and measles, vitamin A supplements and tetanus vaccinations for women of childbearing age. The Dominican Republic will also introduce the rubella vaccine into its immunization schedule.

Highlighting the numbers of unvaccinated individuals and underscoring the relevance of immunization awareness for everyone, Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization said, “In an age when diseases can easily cross borders, these numbers are dangerous and these children at risk.” “Our concern is to ensure that immunization is delivered across the Americas in an equitable way, including the poor and vulnerable,” said Dr. Roses. The theme of this year’s events is “Vaccination: an act of love.”

While the priority throughout the region will be protecting children against measles, polio and rubella, countries will also be looking to address the specific needs of their vulnerable populations. For example, Brazil will use Vaccination Week to encourage influenza vaccination for its elderly and provide immunization services at its border crossing with French Guiana. Some countries will concentrate on protecting mothers and newborns against maternal and neonatal tetanus.

The event launch in Haiti brought attention both to immunization in a needy country and to the stability and peace essential for the country’s reconstruction. About half of Haitian children do not receive routine immunization against preventable disease.

Vaccination Week was held for the first time in 2003 and has expanded in its second year to include all countries of the hemisphere. According to the Pan American Health Organization, U.S. participation will include immunization sessions on the U.S.-Mexico border and events in New York City, San Diego and other major U.S. cities in Arizona, District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. Vaccination week corresponds this year with National Infant Immunization Week, coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The mission of the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute is to save lives by advancing development of new vaccines and increasing immunization rates throughout the world. Founded in 1993, the Institute pursues Dr. Albert Sabin’s vision of a world protected from disease by vaccines. Sabin Institute colloquia convene leaders in academia, government, industry, and philanthropy to explore solutions to problems in vaccine research and development, and promote dialogue to prevent infectious diseases and treat cancer. As an immunization advocate, it helps policy makers shape sound public health policies and informs the public about the importance of vaccinations. The Sabin Institute’s Hookworm Vaccine Initiative is working to develop a vaccine to prevent an infection that afflicts more than one billion individuals, and is a leading cause of anemia and malnutrition in the developing world.