KINGSTON – The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is to be added to the regular schedule of vaccines in the public health system.
This was announcedby Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton. The vaccine will today be administered to girls between the ages of nine and 14 at grade seven.
There has been some level of discontent and apprehension about the roll-out of the vaccine aimed at protecting girls from cervical cancer, which can result from two specific strains of the HPV later in life. The vaccine is most effective if administered during the targeted age cohort, medical experts have said.
Responding to questions about the long-term plan for the vaccine as part of the country’s schedule of mandatory vaccines, Dr Tufton stated that: “Parents can decide and expressly state that they don’t want their child getting the vaccine, but otherwise, we are moving towards universal coverage for the vaccine, and that’s the direction that we are going — to standardise it over time and make it a standard part of the menu of vaccines that we administer as part of the public health”.
He was speaking on Friday at a sensitisation session for the media hosted by the ministry and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at its offices in Kingston.
But Dr Tufton stated that, “we are not there yet”, when further pressed as to whether the same legal regime would exist for the HPV vaccine, whereby for example, admittance to the school system can be denied if a child is not fully immunized for their age.
According to the regulations governing the Public Health Act: “the person authorised to admit pupils to any school shall not admit any child or if already admitted shall not permit any child to continue attending any such school, unless such child or his parent produces a certificate of immunization issued by a public officer or a medical practitioner for the child”. Individuals not in compliance with the regulations could face a fine or sentence in the parish court.
Meanwhile, the National Parenting Commission is among the stakeholders which have endorsed the vaccine. “We believe that this is most important at this time,” head of the commission, Kaysia Kerr, stated in her remarks to the forum, noting that the organisation has been engaging parents in its own public education campaign and would, in the upcoming weeks, be ramping up these activities to ensure that parents of girls in grade seven are “strongly urged” to get their children vaccinated.
Acting director of Family Health Services in the ministry, Dr Melody Ennis, pointed out that girls and young women between the ages of 15 to 26 are also strongly urged to get the vaccine, which is available in the private health care system. “The dosing vaccine is a little bit different. It’s going to be three that is required, stat dose one month after, and then six months after the first dose. At this time, the ministry of health is not offering it to those persons…remember we are hoping to get over 80 per cent coverage [which] would put us in a good position in the future,” she said.
Explaining the age cut-off, subregional advisor on immunisation for PAHO region, Karen Lewis Bell outlined, “If someone has not become sexually active at age 26 and has not been exposed to the virus already, they could get the vaccine…the vaccine won’t be as effective in terms of the level of protection that it will provide for older persons. It’s most effective when given to the younger group in terms of the immune response that the body mounts.”
The vaccine will be administered to girls under the Government’s programme, in two doses, six months apart.
Health experts are insisting that the vaccine is safe, and have undertaken to continue to educate and sensitise the public through various meetings across the island with interest groups, guidance counsellors, and parent teachers’ associations.