Imagine your child bumping into a wall as he tries to take his first step, having been needlessly robbed of the gift of sight by complications from a rubella infection at birth.
Then visualise your daughter being unable to walk properly as a result of poliomyelitis (polio), or struggling to breathe because complications from diphtheria have blocked her air passage.
Well, these illnesses need not affect your child as the Government, through the Ministry of Health’s immunization programme, has ensured that every child can be immunized against these afflictions.
Vaccination will give you and your child a chance at life, as it remains one of the most cost-effective health interventions that have been used for over 200 years, and which aid in the development of fortified barricades between children and the debilitating diseases.
Director of Family Health Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, notes that “despite the many myths and fears surrounding vaccinations, medical evidence indicates that immunizations still continue to save many lives worldwide."
The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) has been established in Jamaica since September 1977 and through its efforts, many young Jamaicans have been afforded the opportunity to enjoy a ‘disease-free’ childhood.
“Vaccinations are great in terms of protection from ill health and from death,” Dr. Lewis-Bell says, adding that “there are several benefits that the individual, the family and the country can derive, especially monetary savings, as a result of the programme."
The Ministry of Health, through its National Immunization Programme, will continue to ensure that the required policy framework is in place to protect the lives of the nation’s children.
According to the Immunization Regulations of 1986, which were drafted under the Public Health Act of 1974, all children in Jamaica are required to be adequately vaccinated by their first birthday.
The regulations also stipulate that it is the duty of every parent to have his or her child immunized and, it also states that all children under seven years must be adequately vaccinated before they are permitted entry to school.
Children must be vaccinated against the following preventable diseases: small pox, pertussis, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, and tuberculosis.
Additionally, as part of the Health Ministry’s EPI policy framework, all medical practitioners who operate in public or private entities are mandated to administer vaccinations based on the immunization schedule.
Dr. Bell notes that Jamaica has made several gains since the country first implemented the EPI programme in 1977, as several of the diseases are near to eradication or have been fully eliminated.
As a result of the achievements of the programme, the last case of polio was identified in 1982; the last case of locally transmitted measles in 1991; diphtheria in 1995; rubella (German Measles) in 2000 and the last case of newborn tetanus in 2001.
Last year, the country achieved 100 per cent coverage for tuberculosis (BCG), 92 per cent for polio, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough and tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza type b (HIB) and 88 per cent coverage for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
It is against this background that Jamaica was awarded the 2011 Henry C. Smith Immunization Award for the making the most improvements to its existing programme during that year.
However, despite the successes, it is mandatory that children are properly immunized as, with an increase in air travel and Jamaica’s dependence on tourism, many of the diseases that have not been completely eradicated from the world could return to the island.
“It is, therefore, very important for parents to make sure that their children are immunized and are given vaccines that are necessary for their growth and development,” says Mrs. Henrietta Davis-Wray, a survivor of poliomyelitis (polio).
Mrs. Henrietta Davis-Wray, who has been paralysed as a result of complications from the disease, is of the belief that if she had been vaccinated against polio, she would not have contracted the virus.
In keeping with the Government’s thrust to protect the nation’s children, the Ministry of Health is therefore urging all parents to ensure that their children are adequately vaccinated for their age, as immunization guarantees their protection and will enhance their development.
By Toni-Ann Russell, JIS PRO