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Govt Embarks on $54.4 Million Measles Prevention Campaign

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The Government is to spend $54.4 million to implement a Measles Prevention Campaign, which will run from February 16 to May 8, 2015.

Ministry of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, made the announcement at a press briefing held on Monday, February 16 at Jamaica House.

He informed that the money will be used to procure additional doses of the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine as well as social mobilisation and communication.

“Approximately 195,000 children from 1 to 6 years of age, will be targeted for vaccination as part of the campaign, which will run concurrently in all parishes in three phases,” Dr. Ferguson said.

He informed that phase one will target children attending clinic for routine immunisation services; phase two will seek to capture children at basic, infant, primary schools and day care centres; and phase three will focus on community outreach for those who were not immunised in phases one and two.

“The targeted population will be vaccinated unless they can provide documented proof of receiving two doses of the MMR vaccine and any other compulsory vaccine they may not have received,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Although the campaign will largely focus on the provision of the MMR vaccine, including the booster dose, it will also provide other vaccines available in the public sector, which the children may have missed.

The main objectives of the campaign are: to capture those that have not been fully immunised for their age in order to improve the overall immunisation coverage in Jamaica; provide adequate protection in order to reduce the susceptible population for measles in children; and to have an impact on other vaccine-preventable diseases such as rubella.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ferguson said the immunisation statistics reveal that measles vaccination coverage has fluctuated from a low of 81 per cent in 2011 to a high of 94 per cent in 2013.

“The coverage for the second dose (booster) is even lower. The target coverage for both doses is 95 per cent or greater. What the data is telling us is that while parents make it a priority to ensure that children under two years are vaccinated the level of interest to immunise children two years and older is trending downwards,” he said.

He informed that to close the gap, the Ministry of Health has taken the decision to offer the completed dosage of MMR vaccinations earlier.

“For children born July 2013 and after, we are now offering the booster dose of the MMR vaccine at 18 months old instead of 4-6 years. This is being done to close the existing gap and to get children immunised during the ‘active’ vaccination period when other vaccines are being offered and uptake is greater,” Dr. Ferguson explained.

The Health Minister said everyone has a role to play to ensure that children are adequately vaccinated prior to entry to school, noting that this requirement ensures that disease outbreaks are prevented, thus protecting the lives of children and adults.

Under the country’s 1986 Public Health Act, all children should be fully vaccinated by their first birthday and receive booster shots thereafter.

All children under the age of seven must be adequately vaccinated for their age prior to entry to school, which includes nursery and day care facilities. Failure to comply with the regulations can result in prosecution in a court of law.

The regulations only allow for exemption from vaccination based on medical reasons and not on religious or philosophical beliefs.

Measles signs and symptoms appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. These typically include : fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), and skin rash.

By Latonya Linton

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