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AP investigation reveals childhood vaccine crisis in Venezuela

A toddler is inoculated for polio during a free vaccination campaign for polio, rubella and influenza organized by the Health Ministry in Caracas, Venezuela, June 18, 2022. An AP analysis of rare government data and estimates from public health agencies shows that Venezuela is among the world’s worst countries for getting inoculations that protect young children against potentially fatal diseases. (AP Photo / Ariana Cubillos)

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Regina Garcia Cano, Caracas-based Andes correspondent, produced a distinctive, exclusive investigative story using data analysis and deep reporting to reveal that many Venezuelan children lack access to essential vaccines,putting the country among the world’s worst for inoculating children against potentially fatal diseases and leaving neighboring countries vulnerable to outbreaks.

Data on vaccination rates is elusive in Venezuela,where institutions are shrouded in secrecy,corruption and bureaucracy. The country hasn’t published rates since 2015. But Garcia Cano contacted physicians and epidemiologists, both inside the government-run health system and in private practice — they began to paint a picture of a growing crisis: the government is not providing all recommended vaccines and parents cannot afford to buy them in the private sector.

The breakthrough came when a source shared government data showing that vaccination rates in some states did not even reach 20%. Garcia Cano also looked at data from United Nations agencies showing rates for two routine vaccines at zero.

Government officials did not respond to her questions,and neither did officials with the Pan-American Health Organization,which coordinates the regional vaccine purchasing system,but she hopped on their COVID-related news conferences to carefully ask questions, getting crucial answers regarding the problem.

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In photo at left, a nurse holds a vaccination card during a free vaccination campaign for polio, rubella and influenza organized by the Health Ministry in Caracas, Venezuela, June 18, 2022. At right, nurses look over a child’s vaccine card during the vaccination program. – AP Photos / Ariana Cubillos

Her reporting included visits to clinics, conversations with families and interviews with public health experts for a comprehensive look at the availability of vaccines in Venezuela’s unraveling health-care system. Experts were clear: Venezuela’s vaccine crisis is destabilizing the region and the continent.

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