Anti-vax sentiments still ‘a significant threat’ to public health — MOH

ANTI-VACCINE sentiment, a prime public health challenge during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, remains “more than ever a significant threat”, according to health officials here.

“It’s not just since COVID; the World Health Organization came up with a list of the 10 most significant threats to global health in 2019 and in that list was vaccine hesitancy. We have seen an upward trend in vaccine hesitancy over the past few years. COVID may have brought it to the fore with the vaccine but it’s now more than ever a significant threat,” acting director of the health ministry’s Family Health Unit, Dr Julia Rowe Porter said. She was speaking at a Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum on the importance of childhood immunisation at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters in the Corporate Area.

“It’s not just a threat to vaccination programmes, it’s a threat to global health because vaccination over the years has proven to be one of the most cost-effective interventions for health. Right now persons are living to 70s/80s; life expectancy has improved,” Rowe Porter said on Monday.

“We are here to remind the public that decades ago we had a serious problem with vaccine-preventable diseases, but the threat remains. Jamaica has done so well but polio still exists. We can’t afford to go back. We don’t have a strong enough economy [to allow for regression]; and even if we did, that’s a waste of time and resources and money to try and deal with outbreaks that we can prevent with vaccination,” she said further.

Lecturer and May Pen Hospital’s paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith said the scepticism surrounding COVID-19 vaccines has coloured the views of individuals in respect of routine vaccination programmes.

“I think the conversation that has emerged with the whole introduction of the COVID vaccine has had a lot of parents wondering if it was the same mechanism that was used in the evolution of the vaccines used in preventing childhood diseases. I think that fear has perpetuated because there is information out there, however, some persons have not always put that information in its right perspective,” she pointed out.

Last September, data from one of several studies revealed at the 66th Annual Caribbean Public Health Agency Health Research Conference said fear of adverse effects or death was the main reason some Jamaicans refused to take the COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccines are effective interventions, designed to prevent and control infectious diseases which are otherwise harmful or deadly, especially in immunocompromised citizens. In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that worldwide, vaccines prevented 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015.