Click here to print page

Two medical groups endorse HPV vaccination programme

Thursday, October 05, 2017

TWO medical groups have voiced support for Government's human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme which the Government started on Monday in high schools.

The Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), in a release yesterday, endorsed the move, but stressed that “every effort must be made to continue to educate and inform the public so that they can make an informed decision about the vaccine”.

The MAJ argued that Jamaica has been a leader in the elimination of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, measles and congenital rubella syndrome, and that if administered to girls aged nine to 14 years, the HPV vaccine will drastically reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

“The HPV vaccine is safe and the MAJ is encouraging parents to get their daughters vaccinated as it will have a significant public health impact by decreasing the incidence of cervical cancer,” the association said.

The Paediatric Association has also backed the programme, while encouraging parents and guardians to ensure adequate knowledge and understanding of the HPV vaccine in order to make informed decision.

“We therefore recommend that parents carefully read the fact sheet and information letter that has been sent home with their daughters/wards from the Ministry of Health and that parents contact their paediatrician, family doctor or nearest health centre for further information if they need further clarification,” the Paediatric Association said.

Some 309 girls in four schools across Kingston, St Andrew and Portland have so far received the HPV vaccine since the programme started. The schools are Oberlin and Papine High in Kingston and St Andrew, and Titchfield and Happy Grove in Portland.

At the same time, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday sought to clarify statements made by colleague minister, Senator Ruel Reid, which suggested that the vaccination programme was put on hold.

The vaccine is being given to girls in grade seven by the health ministry as a means of protecting them from HPV, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which can lead to cancer.

The Jamaican Government said, however, that the vaccine is not mandatory.

Senator Reid, who holds the education portfolio, told a press conference at his ministry on Tuesday that the vaccine programme was being put on hold, causing confusion in what was believed to be a lack of communication between Cabinet colleague on a national issue.

Tufton made no reference to a postponement in his extensive presentation to Parliament on Tuesday about the vaccine, but insisted at a post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday at Jamaica House that there are no mixed signals being sent by the Government on the matter.

He stressed that the health ministry was implementing the programme in institutions first where it is “comfortable that the communication has been efficient [and] effective, manifesting itself in parents being aware, students being aware, administrators being aware, and we have started that process”.

“The most efficient approach to administering is in the school system; so it requires a lot of collaboration between both ministries… what I think has occurred is that there are inconsistencies in the extent of the discussion and the communication in institutions. Because of the way the process is being administered, different schools require different principals and administrators to interact with the health officials to move that communication through from health to education, through to child to parents and guardians. Because it requires multiple players, there have been inconsistencies in how the communication has been and I think that is a point that both Minister Reid and myself appreciate and have discussed,” Tufton explained..

The health minister further informed that there has been a pushback of some of the proposed dates for some institutions due to a number of reasons, such as medical practitioners not being available on those dates, or the dates not being appropriate for particular schools.

“The dates are agreed on by the school administration and the health officer. It's a combined effort, so unless the particular institution is comfortable with that proposed date based on all they need to do to ensure the successful administration of the process, then that date would not be decided on,” he stressed.

The Ministry of Health is targeting 22,338 girls under the vaccination programme in an effort to protect them from cervical cancer, which health authorities say kills 185 women annually in Jamaica and is diagnosed in 392 women each year. It is also said to be the second most common cancer among Jamaican women after breast cancer.

— Alphea Saunders