Tufton says no measles case here

Health minister urges parents to get children vaccinated

Senior staff reporters

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Heath Minister Dr Christopher Tufton confirmed yesterday that there are no cases of measles detected in Jamaica. However, he expressed concern about the slow response to the vaccination programme.

Dr Tufton was responding to questions from the Opposition's spokesman on health, Dr Dayton Campbell, after delivering an update in the House of Representatives on the situation involving the regional threat from an outbreak of measles in the United States and Europe.

The minister said that he had spoken to the chief medical officer in his ministry up to yesterday and was advised that the ministry was not aware of any local or imported cases.

“I am advised by the chief medical officer that she is not aware of any case — local or imported,” Dr Tufton said.

However, Dr Campbell insisted that he was aware of at least one case of imported measles within the past 30 days, which was reported to the ministry.

Campbell said that it was not the first time he had been made aware of the presence of a contagious disease in the country while the ministry reported that there were no such cases.

“I cannot understand why I am made aware of these cases, but the ministry is not. This is not the first time, and it ought not to happen,” Campbell said.

But the minister immediately sought the advice of his medical team, after which he reported to the House that he had been advised that there had been one case of a child who had entered the island with complications arising from measles, two weeks after being affected by the disease. However, he said that the child was treated for the complications which, he was informed, were not considered contagious at that point.

Tufton, who is not medical doctor, told the Jamaica Observer after the meeting that his advice was that the disease was only contagious up to four days after it is cured.

“I have no interest in coming here to hide information or to mislead the public,” he stated, and advised that the Ministry of Health is monitoring the island for both local and imported cases, given the recent increase in cases in the United States and across the region.

However, he admitted that Jamaicans were not reacting to his ministry's urging to get inoculated against the disease as fast as they did in the past.

Responding to Dr Campbell's suggestion that the local anti-measles vaccination programme was not as effective as it should be, he blamed the growing impact of what he described as the “anti-vaccine movement”, which has been urging parents against having their children inoculated.

He said that the movement has become more vocal in recent times, and is being backed by “big” resources as well as a campaign on social media, although the vaccines have been saving some two million lives annually.

“It is true that the anti-vaccine movement has gained some ground in the global campaign (against vaccines), so I am open to reviewing our campaign,” he told Campbell.

Despite the anti-vaccine movement, however, Tufton appealed to parents and guardians to visit health centres to ensure their children are fully vaccinated against measles, as the virus kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

The vaccines can be had at all public health centres across the island free of cost, he told the House of Representatives yesterday in a statement on the spread of the disease overseas and Jamaica's preparedness.

He noted that most cases of measles are mild and symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person, but may appear as early as seven days and as late as 21 days after exposure, and that the virus typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.

Tufton said that in order to stop the disease from spreading, 95 per cent of children in the island need to be fully vaccinated with the two doses of the MMR1 vaccine at 12 months and MMR2 at 18 months.

He said there has been a decrease in uptake of the vaccines over the last few years, with 89 per cent coverage of MMR1 recorded in 2018, and 82 per cent coverage for MMR2.

At the same time, Dr Tufton said the ministry stands ready to fight an outbreak of measles which, at March 30, has recorded 596 confirmed cases in the regions of the Americas. More than 300 of those were from the United States.

He said the ministry is prepared to activate the emergency protocol so there is continued coordination between the national and local levels to identify migratory flows from abroad, and internal flows to facilitate access to vaccination services.

The health ministry, said the minister, is also ready to increase vaccination coverage and strengthen epidemiological surveillance in border areas as is necessary; and vaccinate at-risk populations that do not have proof of vaccination or immunity against measles and rubella.

According to Dr Tufton, in response to the increase in cases worldwide, the health authorities have, since the beginning of the year, enhanced their response to include sensitisation and training of approximately 60 health care professionals with mandatory training of rapid response teams across the island.

“Additionally, the ministry is recirculating communication to sensitise doctors and other health professionals about the increased risk of measles importation and to heighten the index of suspicion for measles. The communication is also a reminder to doctors and nurses regarding the surveillance protocol for fever and rash, including the importance of immediate Class I notification and sampling on first contact and prioritise vaccination of all children in the target group with two doses of MMR vaccine,” he outlined.

Tufton said Vaccination Week in the Americas, which will be observed locally from April 27 to May 3, represents a significant opportunity for the country to protect against measles transmission.

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