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Information minister triggers vaccine confusion

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A pronouncement by Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid that the programme to inoculate grade seven girls with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been halted has created confusion among citizens.

Reid told journalists at a press conference at his Heroes' Circle office yesterday that the administering of the vaccine, which started on Monday, has been postponed until more assessment is done.

“…We'll be pulling back [to] allow the system to be properly sensitised, including parents. We have no difficulty with that, we are a very caring and responsible Administration,” Reid said when asked about the programme, about which school administrators and parents have raised concerns.

Asked definitively whether or not the programme, first reported by the Jamaica Observer on September 22, would be postponed, Reid said: “Yes, we're going to pull it back until we've done all the necessary groundwork to make sure everybody is clear.”

But Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in a statement late yesterday, said that the programme had not been suspended.

“We are continuing, but careful to ensure that we work with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to ensure adequate information to parents and guardians and students. This may result in delays from the original schedule for a school, but where this is in place, we will proceed,” Tufton said.

Added to that, the minister reiterated the need to have the vaccine administered, citing that current estimates in Jamaica indicate that every year 392 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, while 185 die from the disease, with the majority of deaths occurring in women between 40 and 64 years of age.

He noted, too, that cancer continues to be a burden on public health, and outside of the emotional and physical trauma it causes to those affected, it is a burden financially to treat.

“Detecting cancer early also greatly reduces cancer's financial impact. Not only is the cost of treatment much less in cancer's early stages, but people can also continue to work and support their families.

“In the United States the cost on diagnosis is US$15,868; if the patient survives for a year this rises to US$30,910.00. In Canada, the cost is CAN$39,187 and CAN$69,142.00, respectively. In Jamaica, the estimated cost is $274.4 million to treat the 392 cases annually. I should point out that this figure is only for radiotherapy and does not include diagnosis and chemotherapy,” Tufton shared.

Concerns were raised by school administrators and parents about the vaccine following reports that the programme would begin in October.

At least two high school principals expressed concerns over the manner in which the health ministry is proposing to administer the vaccine. The principals indicated that the proper communication channels had not been established.

Twenty-one parents have so far declined to have their daughters receive the vaccine.