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American Red Cross Funded New Cholera Vaccination

A new cholera vaccine campaign in Haiti – supported by $1 million from the American Red Cross – has completed the first phase of the two-dose vaccination for adults, and the second phase is underway.

The $1.3 million vaccination project is led by the Boston-based nonprofit Partners In Health, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, and the Haitian nonprofit, GHESKIO. The pioneer cholera immunization campaign in Haiti was launched prior to the rainy season, which is expected to lead to a spike in cholera cases.

“From everything I’ve seen, there is no one who was eligible for the vaccine who didn’t want it. It’s really great,” said Djencia Eresa Augustin, a cholera surveyor for PIH.

The campaign allows for 100,000 people in rural and urban communities to receive Shanchol, an oral vaccine approved by the World Health Organization to help protect individuals against cholera for up to three years. The first dose of the vaccine was distributed to more than 23,000 adults and children above the age of nine in the agricultural Artibonite region, which suffered the brunt of the 2010 cholera outbreak. PIH plans to have given both doses of the vaccine to 50,000 Haitians by the end of June.

On the first day of immunization delivery “we loaded 4,000 cholera vaccines into pick-up trucks and dispatched the vaccines with 40 four-member teams to towns and villages across the region. Most teams worked faster than anticipated, and within two hours of starting, we ran out of vaccines at the post,” said Jon Lascher, Haiti program coordinator for Partners in Health. “We mobilized more supply from the cold storage and by 4 p.m. we had vaccinated 6,100 people.”

An elderly woman receives her first dose of the cholera vaccine during a home visit after a field team discovered she was unable to walk to the vaccination post. Photo courtesy of PIH. A child receives one dose of the oral cholera vaccination, Shanchol. Photo courtesy of PIH.

Many people were eager to receive the vaccine, but field teams still regularly reminded communities that immunization does not prevent cholera in general, but rather helps to lower individual risk. When administered in its two-dose formula, Shanchol is 65 to 75 percent effective for up to 36 months.

Now, teams are preparing to administer second doses for adults on Mother’s Day, with vaccinations for children under nine years old starting the last week of May.

“It has been our commitment to use every tool available to combat the spread of cholera in Haiti and ultimately save lives. The successful completion of the first phase of this vaccination campaign gives us hope that with strong partnerships, we can achieve what may initially seem like a daunting goal,” said Dr. Max Raymond Jr., the campaign’s project coordinator.

Including the $1 million for the vaccination program, the American Red Cross has contributed more than $17 million to fight the cholera outbreak in Haiti, including providing medical specialists and supplies, running treatment centers, and focusing on the delivery of clean water and sanitation to affected communities. Additionally, the global Red Cross network launched an educational campaign to teach people how to reduce the spread of cholera.