Measles caution

Barbados may be at risk of a measles outbreak because the island’s immunisation rates have fallen to worrying levels following the COVID-19 pandemic.

That health caution has come from Chief Medical Officer The Most Honourable Dr Kenneth George in an interview with the Weekend Nation.

“Measles is a very contagious disease and based on our current immunisation rates, we may be at risk for an outbreak. So we have to be careful how we approach this. The best form of prevention is to make sure that children get their two immunisation shots for measles, mumps and rubella,” he said.

George, therefore is appealing to parents to make sure their children are immunised against vaccine preventable diseases. He said children should be getting their measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at one year and 18-months-old.

He said it was important that parents adhere to his advice especially since Barbados was moving full steam ahead preparing for thousands of visitors expected for the highly anticipated International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s T20 World Cup in June.

“The Ministry of Health would like to call for parents, particularly as we have the World Cup and other events that require international travel, that their children be up-to-date with their appropriate immunisation shots. The one of most concern to Barbados is measles because our rates of immunisation have fallen after COVID.

George said authorities were concerned about preventing a measles outbreak because although most cases did not have an adverse outcome, “in a few cases you can get what is termed to be a pneumonia or you can get what is termed to be encephalitis [inflammation of the brain] and those can lead to death”.

He further stated that health authorities did not record a case of measles in Barbados for several years.

“And because of that, a new case coming to Barbados may be difficult to identify because it is not a common disease by any stretch of imagination and we would like to keep it that way. So our MMR 1 level is about 90 per cent and the second is at about 75 per cent and we need to bring that up closer to 90 per cent.

“We need to have 90 per cent for the first dose and 90 per cent for the second dose and that would provide population coverage. We do not want an outbreak because an outbreak would tax our health care system. And because it is preventable, that is the step we should use. We have always had childhood vaccines on the island and we have the most comprehensive vaccine protocol within the Americas,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) described measles as a highly contagious, serious airborne disease caused by a virus that could lead to severe complications and death. WHO also states that measles vaccination averted 56 million deaths between 2000 and 2021.

WHO added: “Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2021, there were an estimated 128 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among unvaccinated or under vaccinated children under the age of five years. In 2022, about 83 per cent of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services-the lowest since 2008.”

George explained that when the Ministry of Health introduced the COVID-19 vaccine, certain sections of the population pushed back against it because some believed it was released too quickly to the public. Some spoke of safety issues, he added.

“And that has translated to a broadened group who are suspicious of vaccines. But in years gone by we always had good cooperation from the public with respect to our vaccine programme. Barbados has won international awards a few years ago with respect to its vaccine programme.

“We are doing some new outreach. Vaccine Week in the Americas is coming up and we are planning public engagement. In addition, the ministry has acquired a bus which is a mobile unit which will be going out to communities in Barbados to bring health care messages to the public and to offer not only NCDs [Non-communicable diseases] prevention and control, but also offer immunisation.” (AH)

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