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Story Highlights

  • Frontline health workers are being encouraged to get vaccinated to protect themselves against the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.
  • The Minister was speaking to journalists following a tour of the newly upgraded National Virology Reference Laboratory, housed at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), on March 11.
  • Dr. Tufton noted that it is the physician who has the authority to determine whether or not further testing should be done.

Frontline health workers are being encouraged to get vaccinated to protect themselves against the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

This call comes from Health Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, who has assured that Jamaica has an adequate supply of the vaccine, which is being further shored up.

“We have brought in another 2,000 doses from Trinidad (and Tobago), and Belize, and (this) week, we will get another 3,000 doses that was ordered. That, we believe, is stockpiling a lot more than would normally be the case and certainly would allow for the frontline healthcare staff, who are particularly at risk, because they have to address the detection and treatment, to be able to access that medication,” he states.

The Minister was speaking to journalists following a tour of the newly upgraded National Virology Reference Laboratory, housed at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), on March 11.

While noting that getting vaccinated is voluntary, Dr. Tufton nonetheless implored healthcare staff to exercise precaution by taking the medication, and pledged the Ministry’s assistance in acquiring it.

“If, for any reason, frontline staff are still concerned and unaware that the vaccine is available, they can get in touch with us at the Ministry and we will take whatever measures that are necessary to help them to access it,” he said.

The Health Minister further noted that the vaccine, which can be accessed from public health care facilities, is also available to the general public via private entities which sell and administer the medicine. The cost ranges from $1,200 and $1,500 per dose.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton encouraged persons experiencing flu-like symptoms, and suspect it may be H1N1, to first get assessed by a physician, whether privately or at a primary public health facilities such as clinics, instead of going to a hospital in the first instance.

“The physician, whether in the private or public sector, has the capacity and is appropriately sensitized to do the necessary testing; and where they determine that that person is at a higher level of risk, based on those symptoms, can immediately refer those cases, and have been referring those cases, for testing,” he said.

Dr. Tufton noted that it is the physician who has the authority to determine whether or not further testing should be done.

“It doesn’t have to be at the level of the hospital, it could be in private practice. Once that test is recommended, that test will be done within that limited time that we are now able to do it, because of the improved capacity (at the National Virology Reference Laboratory). Once the determination is made, the treatment takes place,” he said.

It is being recommended that persons who are at a higher risk of complications from the virus, such as those with chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes; asthmatics; as well as pregnant women, seek medical treatment once they begin to experience flu-like symptoms.

Symptoms of the H1N1 virus are similar to seasonal influenza and may include sneezing, coughing, runny and stuffy nose, fatigue and headache.

To date, 46 cases of the H1N1 virus have been detected in Jamaica. This is up from an average of 30 cases, since over 170 cases were recorded in 2009.

Dr. Tufton noted that because of this above average detection for the current flu season, preparations have been made to address this increase in cases.