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Immunization in Jamaica – Did You Know?

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer



Are you a Jamaican? Have you been fully immunized? Do you know what you have been immunized against? How much do you really know about immunizations in Jamaica? I bet you probably don’t know much about your own immunization.

For most Jamaicans, your parents would have taken you to the clinic or health centre when you were six (6) weeks old for a checkup and to get the jab. Yes, that one that leaves a scar on your shoulder that we show off to each other time and time again! From then on, you were expected to make regular visits and continue getting injections until you were fully immunized. After all, you had to be, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to complete your grade one registration to attend school. And even then, there were still other injections to take.

How can I ever forget one day at primary school when a grade 4 classmate got her injection or maybe not! It was not unusual to see the nurse in the khaki-coloured uniform. When we saw that one we know it meant injections and some students would start fretting as they were afraid of needles. My classmate was one of those. Grade by grade, students would be sent to line up at the injection site. When my classmate was to get hers, she started behaving boisterously, they could barely contain her. I heard that the needle broke in her arm, not sure if that was true but I was so scared for her. She eventually calmed down with about four persons holding her but to this day I still don’t know if she got that jab.

Needless to say, immunization is extremely important so we will be looking into the details of immunization for Jamaicans. I will provide as much information as possible while answering questions and so you can be informed.

What Is Immunization?


Let’s start with a simple definition of immunization. Immunization is the action of protecting a person against a disease through vaccination (or inoculation). Vaccinations are mostly done through needle injections but they can also be administered through the mouth or via a nasal spray.

Vaccination and Immunization - Are they the Same?


Vaccination is described as the treatment with a vaccine that provides immunity from a disease. It also means the same as inoculation. Though at times, vaccination and immunization are used interchangeably, vaccination is actually the beginning of the process and immunization is the result.

Why Do We Need to Get Immunized?


I’m sure you’ve heard about some dreaded diseases in the past that have threatened the very existence of mankind. Had it not been for vaccines that were developed to combat them, many of us would not have been here today. Even today, we have the Coronavirus pandemic that we are all currently battling. It is considered much safer to get a vaccine and be immunized than to get the disease.

Are Vaccinations Mandatory in Jamaica?


Since 1986, the Public Health (immunization) Regulations of the Public Health Act of Jamaica, now Public Health Immunizations Regulations has specifically stated that all children under 7 years of age must be adequately immunized before they can enter school. No child should be permitted entry without a vaccination certificate or the “Child Health Passport” introduced in 2010. The only exemption would be if there is a medical contraindication to the vaccine and documentary proof of this from a public immunization officer or a doctor would be required. So yes, some vaccines are mandatory in Jamaica – from birth to teen years. Let us take a look at them.

What Are the Vaccinations Given in Jamaica and When?


  • BCG – The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine protects against tuberculosis.

  • Polio (OPV/IPV) – The Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV injection) and the Oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV oral drops) protects against poliomyelitis. Anyone who contracts polio can be crippled for the rest of their life. The vaccine is considered to be the only way to prevent this highly contagious disease.

  • DPT/HEPB/Hib – The DPT vaccine or DTP vaccine is a combination of vaccines that protects against three infectious diseases in humans: diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus. HEPB is short for Hepatitis B, which is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. The transmission is through contaminated blood and other body fluids. Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) is a life-threatening infection that can lead to serious illness, especially in children. The vaccines can be applied as a 6-in-one and protects against the mentioned diseases.

  • MMR- The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles).

  • HPV 1/ HPV 2 – (Recently introduced in Jamaica but not mandatory) - HPV vaccination is recommended for all preteens (including girls and boys) at age 11–12 years. This vaccination protects against HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life. It is considered to be effective in protecting against cervical cancer.

The Mandatory Vaccinations for Jamaicans are listed below. Once you have received all of these, you are considered to be fully immunized.

  • Children 3-5 years of age (Basic Schools, Kindergartens, Daycares)

    1. All infant vaccines:(BCG, Polio, DPT/HepB/Hib, MMR)
    2. Boosters: MMR, Polio, DPT

  • Children 4-5 years of age (Pre-Primary)

    1. All infant vaccines (BCG, Polio, DPT/HepB/Hib, MMR)
    2. Boosters: MMR, Polio, DPT

  • Children 6-11 years of age (Primary School)

    1. All infant vaccines (BCG, Polio, DPT/HepB/Hib, MMR)
    2. Boosters: MMR, Polio, DPT

VACCINATION SCHEDULE


  • BCG - Birth to 6 weeks
  • Polio1 - (OPV/IPV), DTP-HepB-Hib1 6 Weeks
  • Polio2 - (OPV/IPV), DTP-HepB-Hib2 3 Months
  • Polio3 - (OPV/IPV), DTP-HepB-Hib3 5-6 Months
  • MMR1 - 12 Months
  • Polio4 - (OPV), DTP4 (2nd Booster) 18 Months
  • MMR2 - (1st Booster), Polio5 (OPV), DTP5 (2nd Boosters) 4-6 years
  • HPV1, HPV2 - (doses given 6 months apart) 11-12 years (females in Grade 7)

What Does It Mean to be Fully Immunized?


In Jamaica, being fully immunized means that you have successfully completed the mandatory government vaccine requirements.

What Should You Do After You Have Been Vaccinated?


Always follow the directives of your healthcare provider. In some instances, some vaccines are followed by symptoms such as fever. Panadol or Paracetamol are usually recommended before and after taking the vaccine. Patients are normally observed briefly for any adverse reactions and are advised to report any abnormalities.

What Should You Do About Missed Vaccinations?


Once you have not received all of your vaccinations, check with your local healthcare provider or healthcare centre for further advice.

Can Vaccinations Be Done Privately?


The simple answer is yes. Vaccinations can be done privately through your medical practitioner. However, these can be quite pricey. It is free of cost when done through the Government system.

Is the Covid-19 Vaccine Mandatory in Jamaica?


As of the date of this article, the Covid-19 vaccines are not mandatory in Jamaica. There is always the possibility that this could change in the future.

Are There Travel Restrictions for Some Vaccines?


Several countries restrict travel unless you are vaccinated against a particular disease. A common one is malaria. Some countries require that you get vaccinated before returning to your home country if you have visited a country where there may be a significant number of cases. So, it is always a good idea to check for that when planning your travels.


Well, that was a mouthful! I do hope you got a chance to chew on every bite of this very informative read. Now that you have a better understanding of vaccines and immunizations, I hope that it will help you in making informed decisions about your health both now and in the future.

I also recommend you read Top Jamaica FAQs (Most Frequently Asked Questions)

Regards,
DC

References:

  • “Case Study: Checking vaccination status at entry to, or during, school” https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/immunization/school-vaccination/case_study_report-school_vaccination_checks_jamaica_final.pdf?sfvrsn=3092093e_3
  • “National Immunization and Medical Requirements”, Ministry of Education, https://moey.gov.jm/national-immunization-and-medical-requirements
  • “Immunisation – DTP, polio, hep B and Hib”, Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/immunisation-dtp-polio-hep-b-and-hib



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A patriotic Jamaican who adore its culture, Wellesley has been using this medium to share what he calls 'the uniqueness of Jamaica with the world' since April 2007.  

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