Health Ministry Seeking to Increase Immunization Coverage


The Ministry of Health is seeking to increase immunization coverage and has called on parents and guardians to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated before they enter school.
The immunization law requires all children under the age of seven years to be fully vaccinated. “Schools must not accept children unless they are adequately vaccinated,” said Health Minister, Rudyard Spencer, in his presentation in the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate in Gordon House yesterday (June 3).
“All basic schools, nurseries and day care centres must ensure that their children are vaccinated,” he stated, while encouraging school principals to contact the nearest public health department with a list of the names of those students, who do not present their immunization cards to the institution.
The Health Minister said that all children, age one year and over, who have not yet received the first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shots, must be brought immediately to the health centre or doctor to receive the vaccine, while those aged one to six years, should receive a second dose of MMR.
Citing the unfortunate case of a 17 month-old, who did not receive her MMR vaccine at the recommended age of one year, and who has contracted an imported case of measles, Mr. Spencer said if necessary, the law governing immunization will be used to prosecute persons, who prevent children from being vaccinated.
“If we want to keep Jamaica free of measles, polio, rubella and other vaccine preventable diseases, we must get serious and implement the strategies, which we know will work,” he stated. It is estimated that approximately 30 to 40,000 children under age six years are susceptible to measles.
He noted that it should made mandatory for caregivers to produce the immunization cards of all children up to age 18, when they seek care at any health facility. “We must be prepared to provide immunization services at every point of the health care delivery system.we must go back to the old approach of giving vaccinations daily in the clinics and doing vaccinations in the community by going house- to-house,” the Minister said.
He went on to urge every member of the House to pass on the message to their constituents, and also encouraged the media to publicize the messages frequently.
According to the Health Minister, Jamaica maintained high vaccination coverage for many years, but the numbers have been slipping in recent times due to complacency.
Vaccination coverage averages 83 per cent with the exception of MMR, which was at 77 per cent for 2007. The target is 100 per cent for all vaccines given. The country continues to be a leader in the English-speaking Caribbean in the area of immunization, and has prided itself in eradicating diseases through the Expanded Programme on Immunization. “Jamaica had its last case of polio in 1982, the last case of locally transmitted measles in 1991, the last case of congenital rubella in 1998, and the last case of rubella and neonatal tetanus in 2001,” the Health Minister informed.
He noted that although Jamaica has been blessed with the absence of vaccine preventable illnesses, many of these diseases are still occurring throughout the world. “There are currently measles outbreaks in Austria, Switzerland, Spain, the UK, Canada, and the USA. Polio is still occurring in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. As Jamaica has a very vibrant tourism industry receiving visitors from all over the world, persons who are not adequately vaccinated would be susceptible to disease,” Mr. Spencer pointed out.

JIS Social