Press Conference Statement- Minister of Health, The Hon. Kim Wilson, JP,MP
From April 20 to 27, the Region of the Americas will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of Vaccination Week in the Americas, and the World Immunization Week, under the theme “Protect your community. Do your part. GetVax.”
This year there is a significant focus on putting an end to the current measles outbreaks and preventing future outbreaks.
Currently, there are ongoing measles outbreaks, in the Americas even though in 2016 the region had declared itself free of the disease.
Since 2017, the Region has suffered from measles transmission with more than 17,000 cases. In 2019 ten countries in the Region of the Americas reported confirmed measles cases occurring including: Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States of America, and Venezuela. The outbreaks in Europe also remain a threat to the importation of the disease.
Bermuda has no recorded measles cases since 1991. However, 28 years of measles-free history is now under threat.
Our excellent track record is no reason to be complacent because not only is measles at our doorstep – being one flight away considering the recent outbreaks in NYC – but also because in Bermuda we have detected high levels of vaccine hesitancy which means that not enough people have been vaccinated to give our people herd immunity.
In other words measles, which is highly contagious and can easily spread to others through airborne droplets from sneezing and coughing, could spread through Bermuda’s unvaccinated population rapidly causing major disruption to schools and businesses, unnecessary pressure on healthcare resources, and could put lives unnecessarily at risk.
Our most recent data for 2018 has shown significant improvement in vaccination coverage of 95% for infants at 6 months of age compared with 2017. However, there is a real concern about immunization coverage for the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella given at 15 months of age which was 87%. This is significantly below the global target of 95% coverage.
Low vaccination coverage increases our community’s vulnerability to re-emerging vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles. In addition, Bermuda is a major travel destination, and is at increased risk for importation of many of the vaccine preventable diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
This is very concerning for Bermuda and poses significant implications and risk from vaccine preventable diseases. Risks include an increase in vulnerable populations who are unvaccinated, a return of diseases to Bermuda, impact on the health of infants, children, adults and pregnant women, an impact on resources tackling outbreaks of disease and lowered health indicators as a country.
In order to address this issue Bermuda has strengthened community participation with all partners in our immunization program, to explore system changes through a national strategy on vaccine hesitancy.
The Ministry of Health has developed a national plan to address vaccine hesitancy. Our strategy aims to increase Bermuda’s vaccine coverage by 10% by the year 2021. Specifically, we will:
- Implement a web based Electronic Immunization Registry to strengthen accurate, timely and efficient reporting of vaccines, from public health clinics and private sector partners. This initiative has been supported through the Pan American Health Organization and a representative was on island the week of 18th February for the assessment.
- In addition, Bermuda will adopt the World Health Organization’s evidence-based guide for addressing vaccine hesitancy, called ‘Tailoring Immunization Programmes’ (TIP) guide.
This week provides a great opportunity for all the countries of the Region to do their part to end the current measles outbreaks, protect their communities and sustain the gains achieved in immunization for the health of all.
Safe and effective vaccination along with other hygiene practices, is one of the most effective public health interventions known to medicine. It is important to take action as Bermuda’s vaccination coverage is suboptimal. We must act now.
The Department of Health will use this week to address public concerns about childhood vaccination. We are committed to fostering community participation, advocacy and the development of information platforms, tools, and messaging targeted to specific groups.
This week we invite parents and the general public to visit one of our health centres for updates on vaccine cards. And, in May a forum will be held on vaccines with a guest speaker from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who will speak to parents and adults who have concerns about vaccines. The public is invited to attend St Paul Centennial Hall 5.30 on Tuesday 7th May.
To close, I remind us once again that Bermuda and the world are now at risk of diseases medical science and public health eradicated over a generation ago. This is a terrible indictment on our population. We truly must and can do better than this.
The highest quality research has proven time and time again that fears about vaccinations are completely unfounded. And all of the evidence available makes it clear that the complications from these diseases are much worse than people believe and not worth the risk.
I implore all young parents to follow the footsteps of your parents and grandparents who welcomed preventive measures and made Bermuda free of these diseases. With little effort and at no cost we can keep it this way for your children too.
Remember, Bermuda: Vaccines Work!