The Ministry of Health said that it began offering the vaccine to girls in grade seven, free of cost and that the initiative is part of a J$100 million (One Jamaica dollar=US$0.008 cents) school-based programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.
The government said that the move is a proactive measure to protect girls against cervical cancer, which takes the lives of hundreds of women in the country annually and hundreds of thousands more worldwide.
Last month, Health Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, speaking at a HPV media sensitization forum at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI), said 22,500 girls will be targeted under the initiative and that two doses will be given six months apart for full protection.
He said while the vaccine is not mandatory he wanted to assure the public that the programme is not a trial and error process.
“It is a tried and proven approach that is intended to make our population healthier as it relates to the risk of cervical cancer. I am confident that we are doing the right thing. I am confident that Jamaica needs this, our young girls, our young women; I am confident that it is the right step towards dealing with the risk that is at hand,” he said.
Dr. Tufton said that over 200 million doses of the vaccine has been applied to patients worldwide, adding that more than 70 countries, including more than 20 in Latin America and the Caribbean have already introduced the HPV vaccine.
He said the initiative is a proactive move by the Andrew Holness government, pointing out that 392 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Jamaica each year while 185 women die from the disease annually, primarily between the ages of 40 and 64.
Opposition spokesman on Health Dr. Dayton Campbell however cautioned the Ministry to trod carefully and called for the urgent implementation of a public education programme ahead of administering of the HPV vaccine to the at-risk population, including children.
Dr. Campbell said the vaccine has been linked to fainting spells and other side effects, and may not be best administered in the school environment without appropriate measures in place for monitoring.
The Shadow Minister said while the programme may be beneficial in the short and long term as there will likely be less adverse findings on pap smears and fewer cases of cancers, the lack of proper public health education would leave many Jamaicans confused and give cause to heightened anxiety.
The newly appointed People’s National Party (PNP) spokesman on health says there is a need for a comprehensive public health education programme to re-enforce the message that abstinence and safe sex practices are the mainstay in preventing STIs.
There is also the concern of risk compensation in students who may have a false sense of security of full protection and thus engage in risky sexual practices. There is a moral consideration that must be balanced with the proposed benefits.
Dr. Campbell said “There is a clear observation that part of the fight against HPV and cancers would include a vaccination program for boys as well.
The People’s National Party’s shadow minister is calling on the government to level with the Jamaican people before administering this vaccination programme.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that HPV vaccines be included in national immunization programmes as a core strategy for primary prevention against cervical cancer.
WHO states that HPV vaccination for girls ages nine to 14 is the most cost effective public health measure against cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Jamaica and the ninth leading cause of death worldwide.
- Countries: Jamaica