(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — The Government will be rolling out its Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programme to 27 additional schools later this year as it continues with the initiative to reduce new cases of the deadly cervical cancer in Jamaican girls and women.
Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean explained last Thursday at a back-to-school press conference that these are schools which had not had the opportunity to participate in the initial round of vaccinations. She said the schools have been made aware, and would engage in the process between October and November this year.
At the same time, there is no clear indication as to when the second phase of the vaccine will begin.
“We are in discussions, as well, as to when that phase will actually begin… the Ministry of Health team has been participating in our parents’ sensitisation sessions and we have been using that opportunity to further educate our parents as it relates to the advantages of the vaccination as well as to allay their fears, so we are expecting that we will have no challenges as we seek to complete this process for our children,” Dr McLean stated.
The health ministry started administering the controversial HPV to girls ages nine to 14 in schools on October 2 last year, with the aim of immunising 22,338 girls in 150 schools.
Up to May, only 6,172 had received the vaccine, and the second dose, which the health ministry undertook to administer six months after the first dose, had not yet been administered. The two doses of the vaccine, which protects against two of the 14 strains of the HPV virus, can be separated by six to 12 months.
The vaccine is not mandatory, but parents are being encouraged to allow their children to receive it, with assurance from health officials that it will protect them from the strain of the HPV virus which causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women in Jamaica. According to health experts, close to 400 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, and 185 women die from the disease.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, during the sensitisation campaign for the vaccination programme, said it is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), and countered claims that the vaccine is dangerous.
He also assured that Jamaican girls were not being used as guinea pigs for the vaccine. “This is not a trial…we are not trying to prove anything to the world or to any pharmaceutical company or any big money interest. It has nothing to do with that. It is a tried and proven approach, science that is intended to make our population healthier as it relates to the risk of cervical cancer,” he said.
The health minister has also indicated that the vaccination is to be added to the regular schedule of vaccines in the public health system.
He said that while parents reserve the right to refuse the vaccine for their girls, the State is moving towards universal coverage for the vaccine, to have it standardised over time as part of the menu of vaccines administered in the public health system.