Some 70 per cent of children eligible for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination were no-shows when health officials launched the immunization programme on Monday.
Ministry of Health Senior Medical Officer Elizabeth Ferdinand nonetheless described this as a “fair” start to the protection programme for girls ages ten and 11 from a known cancer-causing virus, through a vaccine that is to be taken only with the consent of parents.
This vaccination programme that began at Queen’s College was preceded by town hall meetings where health officials met concerned parents and other members of the public to explain the need for the vaccine, and discuss reservations of some people.
The final meeting was held last night at The Alexandra School. “We have completed our first round of actual immunizing the children. We had about a 31 per cent coverage. It’s fair; I wouldn’t say excellent,” Ferdinand told Barbados TODAY after the meeting, and added: “Whenever you start something new, you’re going to have that element of reluctance.
“I think the parents are a little reluctant, but I think they’ll come along. They will see the benefit of it. And the more they read and hear, the more they would come along.”
Health officials say an average 35 women in Barbados lose their lives annually to HPV, which is preventable through vaccination at an early age. The vaccination is to be applied primarily to girls between ages ten and 11 whose parents volunteer to have them vaccinated.
Ferdinand said she was satisfied with the interaction between a Ministry of Health team and parents, guardians and other concerned citizens at the public meetings. “I think the reaction has been mixed. A lot of people have come knowing nothing, some people have been on the Net. I must say sometimes they visit some unofficial sites and have picked up wrong and false information, and they have brought that to the meeting. I hope that we have been able to allay their fears and to correct any misgivings that they might have.”
These meetings produced robust exchanges between health officials and some members of the public who questioned the need for and safety of the vaccination. Owing to the advisory that this vaccine is most effective and best taken prior to youngsters becoming involved in sexual activity, some parents and guardians expressed a concern that the vaccination gives children the green light for sexual intercourse.
Ferdinand said: “In any audience you would have the pros and the cons. But I think we’ve been able to explain to the parents why it is so important that their children should have this vaccine. So I think it’s been reasonably good.”
She indicated that with the town hall meetings ended, health representatives were seeking to deal directly with parents and guardians of children who are eligible for vaccinations.
“What we are having meetings at every secondary school with their PTA, or at least the parents from the first formers so that each school will have a meeting,” she said.
Additionally, she advised that parents with further concerns could visit the district polyclinic, “or go to their private doctor and ask the question, if they are at all in doubt . . . because you as a parent or guardian, you have to give consent, you are taking on that responsibility, so you must be as fully informed as to what you want to do”.