In 2002, prompted by a measles outbreak in Venezuela and Colombia, the health ministers of countries in the Andean region proposed a coordinated international vaccination effort to help prevent future outbreaks. Country participation in VWA is flexible and based on national health priorities. Since the first celebration of Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) in 2003, hundreds of millions of individuals of all ages have been vaccinated against a wide range of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, rubella, yellow fever, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and influenza, through activities conducted under the framework of the initiative. Multiple VWA social mobilization campaigns have also been undertaken throughout the region and the initiative has received ever increasing political support.
The first VWA as held in June 2003. Nineteen countries participated in this pilot year and the Regional focus was on measles elimination. Across the region more than 16 million people were vaccinated. In September, Vaccination Week in the Americas was accepted as an annual, hemispheric initiative, by the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization, with the adoption of Resolution CD44.R1.
Twenty-three countries participated in the second annual VWA. The regional focus of VWA 2004 consisted of follow-up campaigns against measles, elimination of rubella and CRS, and the vaccination of older adults. Over 43 million people were vaccinated in the second year of the VWA campaign.
The third VWA emphasized the vaccination of indigenous peoples and older adults, rubella elimination campaigns, the strengthening of regular immunization programs and the introduction of new vaccines. Under the umbrella of the initiative, more than 38 million people were vaccinated in the Region. Drawing inspiration from the activities in the Americas, European Immunization Week (EIW) was launched in October 2005 and focused primarily on social communication activities.
In its fourth year, VWA activities highlighted the transition from child to family immunization programs, the strengthening of regular immunization programs, influenza, rubella elimination and the introduction of new vaccines. Over 49 million people were vaccinated during the 2006 campaign.
Forty-five countries and territories participated in Vaccination Week in the Americas 2007, the highest total thus far in the history of the initiative. More than 47 million individuals were vaccinated as a result of the week's initiatives which worked to strengthen border coordination, reach isolated populations, strengthen routine programs and advance the control of yellow fever and hepatitis B, among other goals.
The sixth annual VWA involved the participation of 45 countries and territories in the Region. Multiple VWA launching events took place along binational and trinational borders throughout the Region with the participation of high-ranking authorities. Diverse vaccination campaigns took place as part of the week, including multiple measles/rubella elimination campaigns, focused primarily in Central America. More than 59 million individuals were vaccinated through such efforts.
The seventh annual VWA emphasized the importance of family vaccination as well as the vaccination of health workers. Multiple launching events were held throughout the Region, including a series of events in the South American Chaco, the border area shared by Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay and one of the transnational priority areas as identified by the Pan American Alliance for Nutrition and Development.
The eighth VWA was celebrated under the slogan of "reaching everyone". Regional events were held in multiple locations, including Nicaragua, the Haiti/Dominican Republic and the Suriname/French Guiana border. The latter was the first ever bi-Regional launching event, linking both VWA and EIW. In 2010, the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) Region of WHO celebrated its first ever Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean (VWEM) and counted on 100% participation of the countries in that region.
The ninth annual VWA was celebrated from 23-30 April 2011 across the countries and territories of the Americas under the slogan "Vaccinate your family, protect your community." Regional launching events were organized throughout the Amazon sub-region, and between Peru and Bolivia in the Altiplano. In 2011, the African and Western Pacific WHO Regions celebrated their first ever vaccination week initiatives, joining in this growing global effort!
The 10th VWA was celebrated from 21-28 April in conjunction with the first ever World Immunization Week (WIW), under the respective themes of “For you, for me, for everyone. Get vaccinated” and “Protect your world, get vaccinated.” Many celebrations were held across the Americas, including in Colombia, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and Barbados. Across the Region, more than 45 million people were vaccinated under the framework of VWA 2012. In May 2012, the future celebration of WIW was endorsed through a resolution during the World Health Assembly. WIW will complement and unify the unique vaccination week initiatives in all WHO Regions.
April 2013 marked the 11th celebration of VWA and the second anniversary of World Immunization Week (WIW). The regional slogan was: “Vaccination: A Shared Responsibility,” chosen to highlight that each person has a role to play in fighting vaccine-preventable diseases. Events were held in the majority of countries throughout the Region. Many of these celebrations included the participation of both high level authorities and local leaders. Two celebrations served as the official regional VWA 2013 launches, one at the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala on April 24th and the second in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on April 27th.