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HPV vaccine delay - Pandemic halts programme to save girls from cervical cancer

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2020 | 12:10 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
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The Premature closure of schools in March because of coronavirus restrictions has resulted in thousands of girls missing out on the scheduled second dosage of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which the Government has been offering to grade-seven girls since 2017 to prevent cervical cancer.

More than 32,000 girls have been vaccinated so far under the school-based immunisation programme targeting girls ages 11-13 to safeguard against HPV, the second-leading cause of cancer-related mortality in Jamaica.

Dr Melody Ennis, acting director in the Family Health Unit at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said that the upcoming academic year 2020-21 marks the fourth cohort of girls to be vaccinated under the ministry’s programme.

“With the closure of schools earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not all of the girls received the second dose of the vaccine that would normally be administered in April-May. The MOHW (Ministry of Health and Wellness) continues to work closely with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and is committed to completing the course of vaccination so these girls will be fully protected,” she assured.

TWO-DOSE SERIES

The girls are required to get two doses of the vaccine. In the two-dose series, the recommendation is to give the second dose six to 12 months after the first dose.

“Although we have not passed the 12-month interval, it should be noted that if the vaccination schedule is interrupted, vaccine doses do not need to be repeated, as there in no maximum interval,” Ennis told The Gleaner.

The medical practitioner said that girls can receive the HPV vaccine at their nearest health centre. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents or guardians are encouraged to call and make an appointment.

The first dose of the HPV vaccine was administered in October 2017 and the programme was targeted towards 22,338 girls. However, many parents refused to enrol their children in the vaccination drive. The MOHW hosted several sensitisation sessions with parents and students to get more buy-in.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton had revealed during a statement to Parliament on the HPV introduction in Jamaica on October 3, 2017, that approximately $100 million was budgeted for year one of the HPV vaccine introduction.

The fund was intended to cover social mobilisation and communication, cold-chain equipment, training and sensitisation, and procurement of vaccines and vaccination supplies. The estimated annual cost after introduction is J$73.3 million.

It is estimated that 392 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and that 185 die from the disease, with the majority of deaths occurring in women between 40 and 64 years of age.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com