Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Ministries unite to overcome HPV vaccination challenges

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Tufton
Reid
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Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton is expecting no further complications with the administering of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to girls in grade seven at secondary schools across this island, now that his ministry and the Ministry of Education have found common ground.

There was discord between Tufton and Education Minister Ruel Reid earlier this month after, amid public concerns about the lack of consultation on the HPV vaccination programme, Reid announced that it would be pulled back.

Tufton, however, insisted that the programme would continue with some delays in the vaccination schedule.

The programme did continue, but faced several challenges, resulting in only 45 per cent or 1,995 of the targeted 4,393 grade seven girls being vaccinated between the October 2 start date and October 21.

Some of the challenges that have been blamed for the take-up percentage not being higher are some schools refusal to distribute the HPV information forms; several schools not allowing the health ministry officials to vaccinate, claiming that they were awaiting directive from the education ministry; while some schools stated that they needed affirmation from their boards before permission could be granted.

But late last week, Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner that following a meeting between himself and Reid, things were ironed out, which has made the process much clearer and, by extension, the signals to the schools.

"The meeting took place mid-October, and then it was for the technocrats to get together and ensure that the appropriate directives were issued and the appropriate communication flowed down to the schools," said Tufton.

"How quickly that (the dissemination of information to the schools) would have been done, I would have to determine that, but as far as the policy position is concerned and the coordination between the ministries, that has been cleared up and established based on those discussions I had with minister and his team."

Administrators at Knox High and Alston Valley High in Clarendon, along with Tacky High in St Mary had refused to have their students vaccinated, but Tufton believes such objections should be a thing of the past.

"A school can't just unilaterally take a decision that they don't want the process to be administered; this is government policy," said Tufton.

"It is the Ministry of Education, which provides the policy directives, and the Ministry of Health relies on the Ministry of Education to do that, which based on the discussions we have had, has been done.

"So any delays would be a function of the logistics of administering or the logistics of handing down the policy," added Tufton.

There have also been some challenges with some parents not returning the HPV information forms, while others have misinterpret the 'opt out' forms - signing it as a consent form - prompting the ministry to amend the forms.

"In the schools that have been very clear on what we are doing, the take-up has been as projected; we haven't had any difficulties," said Tufton. "It is the institutions where there were some communication issues where we have had issues. So I anticipate that once the schools come on board then it won't be an issue in terms of the information flow and the administration of the process," added Tufton.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com