Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) |

World Immunization Week: Delivering vaccines and trustworthy information to communities around the world

National Societies are engaging with people at the local level, building trust and delivering immunizations to people who are coping with crises or living in places where vaccines are hard to obtain

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 26, 2024/APO Group/ --

A mother of four and restaurant owner from Dabola, in central Guinea, Diaraye says she felt scared about the vaccines. She didn’t think she had enough information and she’d heard rumours about harmful side effects.

Several health workers came to visit her to try and convince her to vaccinate her newborn, Madiou, but she still felt uneasy.

That was until she met Bérété, a Guinea Red Cross supervisor with the Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Programme (CP3). A mother herself, Bérété connected with Diaraye and patiently explained how vaccinating her own children has kept them safe from diseases. She responded sensitively to Diaraye’s concerns.

Newly informed and confident, Diaraye agreed for Bérété to take baby Madiou for his first immunizations. Since then, Diaraye has become a champion for vaccination within her community.

“My advice to mothers is to agree to their children getting vaccinated. For me, since the Red Cross came to help me vaccinate my baby, I’ve seen that it’s good for children. And I tell all mothers to go and get their children vaccinated at the health centre,” says Diaraye.

A global story, playing out locally, house-by-house

Diaraya's story is far from unique. People around the world often don't have access to life-saving vaccines, do not have all the facts about how they work, or don't know who they can trust to give them accurate and unbiased information.

This is why trusted community organizations, like Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their volunteers, are playing a critical role in reaching out at the local level, providing trustworthy information while enabling access to vaccines in places that are underserved by health services, or that are in the midst of ongoing emergencies.

This year, World Immunization Week revolves around the theme of Humanly Possible, also the name of a global campaign to celebrate and build on the achievements made in protecting people from vaccines since the latter half of the 20th century.

For its part, the IFRC is redoubling efforts to bring awareness and vaccines to people in vulnerable situations --- from conflict to outbreaks, forced migration or natural disaster --- or who for whatever reason lack access to immunization services.

The approach varies to meet the specific situation of each county and they span the globe, from the efforts of the National Societies of Guinea, AfghanistanPakistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and many others. Here are a few more examples of the ways that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are taking on a wide range of very different immunization challenges around the world.

Philippine Red Cross takes on another measles outbreak

The Philippine Red Cross Society (PRCS), for example, has been supporting the government of The Philippines in responding to a measles outbreak by vaccinating more than 15,000 children ages 6 months to below 10 years old with measles vaccine.

As of April 14, 2024, the Philippine Red Cross has vaccinated 15,593 children, mobilizing a total of 131 volunteers (35 vaccinators and 96 support volunteers) in 85 communities in four provinces.

The PRCS' measles outbreak response is being done in collaboration with the ICRC, which also has a long time presence in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, an area where people are impacted by internal conflict and one of the main areas where the measles outbreak is occurring because of low immunization coverage.

The PRCS has been part of other polio and measles outbreak responses and plans to expand this current operation by deploying vaccination teams from other chapters, with the help of resources from the IFRC and the United States Center for Disease Control.

Using innovation to improve access to immunization in Thailand

The Thai Red Cross Society (TRCS), meanwhile, has been using technology in innovative ways to bring immunization services to underserved populations that would not otherwise have access to immunization services.

In Thailand, many displaced persons and undocumented residents are living without proper forms of identification required to access vaccination services. To address the health gap, TRCS partnered with the Department of Disease Control of the Ministry of Public Health and Thailand's National Electronics and Computer Technology Center to develop the Thai Red Cross Biometric Authentication System.

This system uses a biometric authentication system, using face and iris recognition technology while still ensuring data privacy, to accurately register and verify identities, with up to 99 per cent accuracy.

This allows for people without official documentation to still receive vaccines and enables a way to keep a record of the vaccinations received and is especially useful in supporting public immunization campaigns to ensure everyone can be vaccinated.

Using this technology, TRCS reached 20,000 adolescent girls, specifically ethnic minorities, migrants, and refugees between the age of 12-15 years old, living in temporary shelters across the country with 40,000 doses of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This helped to significantly decrease their chances of getting HPV, a major, but vaccine-preventable cause of cervical cancer.

If this can be expanded, more displaced persons and undocumented residents can be assured to have access to their next essential vaccine, such as a booster shot, as well as a better quality of life in Thailand.

Local presence, ready to prevent and respond

Over the long term, immunization campaigns are only fully effective if they are of high quality and result in high coverage. The challenge now is to improve and strengthen routine immunisation, to better prevents future outbreaks, while ensuring there is capacity in place to respond quickly and engage communities, if and when outbreaks occur.

This is why the work of National Societies in Afghanistan, Guinea, Kyrgystan, Pakistan, The Philippines, Thailand, and elsewhere, are so critical. As national organizations with widespread local presence at the community level, they are ideally suited to work with local and national health authorities and communities to build and keep the trust with local communities, while delivering consistent and ongoing access to immunization. The video below shows how the Pakistan Red Crescent brings immunization through local clinics.

Back in Guinea, Red Cross volunteer Bérété continues to visit Diaraye to make sure her son Madiou is doing well, as part of her work engaging members of her community on how to protect themselves and their families from life-threatening disease.

“We keep supporting her, because every time I send her child to hospital to be vaccinated, I never forget to follow up,” explains Bérété. “Every morning I come to see her to check on the child. Because what’s really important, you can’t just vaccinate a child and leave without following up. If she can see that you are there for her at all times, she will have the courage.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).