Sabrina Almendarez didn't die because of a tetanus shot, but the public scare created by the initial report has caused a scare in the public health care system, where any question about the integrity of vaccinations poses a threat to public health.
And so, today, in an effort to allay any lingering fears that vaccines could be dangerous, the Ministry of Health and PAHO called a press conference, where they tried to reinforce confidence in Belize's vaccination program and the successes it has had over the years.
For good measure, Health CEO Dr. Peter Allen himself participated in a demo where he got a booster shot for the cameras to see the procedure. He told the media today that not only is the vaccination programme the safest public health initiative, it is the bedrock of the country's disease response:
Peter Allen, C.E.O., Ministry of Health
"We were extremely concerned that there was some doubt being expressed about the safety of vaccines in general and particularly the immunization programs in the Ministry of Health. We are very grateful to all of you for allowing us the opportunity to show to you that our immunization program is an example a best practiced in the region that really there is a reason why we don't see a lot of cases of measles and mumps and whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria and other vaccine preventable diseases."
"It's not an accident that we don't see those cases. We don't see them because we have an extremely effective immunization program run by nurses like Nurse Espinosa and Nurse Kelly who are with us here today and who make sure that Belize has maintained over 95% immunization coverage. In this particular instance the young girl has received this same vaccine 3 times already, there's no record of any allergies, there's no record of any reactions and that is where this would show up."
"You understand I think everybody, just as Mr. Ysaguirre was pointing out when you give a vaccine, you give an extremely tiny dose and the idea of the vaccine is to illicit in the body a protective response so that in the future if there is any increased exposure to that particular pathogen then body is already capable of dealing with it and responding to it."
"In each of the cases where I have been a part of the Ministry of Health which is older and longer than some of you. In any ways, I have never found a case where the adverse reaction was anything other than coincidental. So, something happened that was coincidental at the time, but now actually related to the immunization. That is my experience. I am not sure is Nurse Espinosa or Nurse Kelly have different experience, but there have never ever been any fatalities. There have never been any significant adverse reactions to any immunization in Belize as far as I am aware."
"In the case of this tragic incident, there was absolutely no evidence of allergy in the previous doses of the exact same vaccine. Over 100 children received the vaccine on the same date. There is no adverse reaction in any of those children."
According to Allen, the vaccination program has layers upon layers of checks and balances, and its performance is scrutinized by PAHO, which has very strict standards. Adding to that was the PAHO representative to Belize. He said that in this region, and in the rest of the world, the country's vaccination program is among the best.
Gerardo de Cosio, PAHO/WHO Representative, Belize
"Everything that is being done in Belize goes through a process in which Belize has to report but also goes through continuous assessments on the quality of the program as well."
"I was also reminding Dr. Allen that the last quality assessment of the vaccination program of Belize also found that the quality of the program is still meeting the highest standards and the information that is being provided to the organization is correct, so we can say that the coverage that is reported that the surveillance system that is in place meets the highest standards that our organization has set for the world."
Recently the Ministers of Health and Delegates from the PAHO member states attended the launching of the slogan for the Vaccination Week of the Americas 2014. That slogan is, "Vaccination: Your Best Shot."