WARNING: Public health threat

WITH a worrying dip in the number of Jamaican children getting age-appropriate immunisation, acting director in the Family Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Dr Julia Rowe Porter is warning that the country still faces the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Addressing the latest Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange Dr Porter noted since 2021 the country has not met the target of 95 per cent of children vaccinated against polio, while the similar target for vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) has not been met since 2020.

According to Dr Porter, while there is some level of vaccine hesitancy in Jamaica, one of the big issues is that the country has done so well with the vaccination of children in the past that some Jamaicans are not taking seriously the possible consequences if their child is not fully immunised.

“It is not that people are irresponsible it’s just that ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Persons forget,” argued Dr Porter as she warned about the dangers the country could face if the vaccination level falls further.

“Stopping the vaccination because you don’t see the value of it and then you have measles, polio reintroduced in the population, that would be absolutely devastating for our economy, for our education system, and everything else that it is tied to. So we can’t afford to say, ‘I can’t bother because I can’t remember,’ ” added Dr Porter.

She noted that over the past 11 months the health ministry has embarked on a drive to increase immunisation coverage through a national ‘Mop up/catch up’ campaign, and underscored that decades ago Jamaica had a serious problem with vaccine-preventable diseases and, “the threat remains”.

“Jamaica has done so well but polio still exists. Just recently there was a case of polio this side of the world and there are more countries which are in a worst position where their coverage rate has plummeted and they are at significant risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“We can’t afford to go back, we don’t have a strong enough economy. And even if we did, that’s a waste of time, and resources, and money to try to deal with outbreaks that we can prevent with vaccination,”

“We have to keep our eyes focused on maintaining the high standards that we have had that we have actually gotten awards for globally,” declared Dr Porter.

Children in Jamaica must be vaccinated against small pox, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, tetanus (lock jaw), diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, and tuberculosis.

Under the law, children must be adequately immunised before they start school, but Dr Porter noted that in 2021 only 89 per cent of children received the polio vaccine as scheduled. That number climbed to 94 per cent in 2022, which was a shade below the target.

In the case of the MMR vaccine, wherein children are required to get two doses by the time they are two years old, 2020 and 2021 had an 86 per cent vaccination rate. That worsened in 2022 when only 83 per cent of the children were vaccinated.

From January to July this year the health ministry recorded 62 per cent of the target for the polio vaccination, 61 per cent for the diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) vaccination, and 58 per cent for the MMR vaccination.