Concern over measles threat
Bermuda’s nearly 30-year record of being measles-free could be under threat after a drop in vaccination rates, and a surge in cases abroad, the Minister for Health warned yesterday.
Kim Wilson said the number of young children receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was below the global target — which left the island vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.
And she signalled that the Government might consider a mandatory vaccination programme to ensure maximum coverage.
Ms Wilson said: “Our excellent track record is no reason to be complacent.
“Not only is measles at our doorstep, being one flight away considering the recent outbreaks in New York City, 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.”
She added that outbreaks of measles in Europe could also be a threat.
Ms Wilson said statistics for last year showed increased vaccination rates for some diseases, such as diphtheria, polio and tetanus, in the first six months after birth, which now stands at 95 per cent.
But she added there was concern about immunisation coverage for the first dose of the MMR vaccine given at 15 months.
Ms Wilson explained: “Only 87 per cent of the children at that age received the vaccine, falling below the 95 per cent global target.
“Low vaccination coverage increases our community’s vulnerability to re-emerging vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles.”
There have been more than 17,000 cases of measles in the Americas since 2017, which declared itself measles free in 2016.
Measles cases have been reported in countries such as Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela.
Ms Wilson said because Bermuda is a major travel destination, there was an increased risk for importation of vaccine preventable diseases.
She pointed out that measles was a contagious disease and could quickly spread through Bermuda’s unvaccinated population and cause disruption to schools and businesses.
She added that a measles outbreak could also put lives at risk and put extra strain on the healthcare system.
The minister said the island had developed a national plan to tackle too low vaccine rates and aimed to increase coverage by 10 per cent by 2021.
Ms Wilson added the plan will include the use of a web-based electronic immunisation registry to accurately record reporting of immunisations from in the public and private healthcare sectors.
She said the plan was backed by the Pan American Health Organisation, which carried out an assessment of the island in February.
Ms Wilson added Bermuda would also adopt the World Health Organisation’s guidelines to deal with lower take-up levels for vaccines.
She said: “Bermuda and the world are now at risk of diseases which medical science and public health eradicated over a generation ago.
“This is a terrible indictment on our population. We must try and we must do better.”
Ms Wilson added she got a letter signed by every child medicine specialist in Bermuda last December asking Government to ensure all children had the needed vaccinations by the time they started school.
Ms Wilson said that it was “not out of the question” that mandatory vaccinations could be introduced.
She added research had shown that fears about health problems as a result of vaccination were unfounded.
Ms Wilson said: “I implore all young parents in particular to follow the footsteps of your parents and grandparents, who welcomed preventive measures and made Bermuda free from diseases.”
She added the Department of Health will tackle fears over childhood vaccination as part of Vaccination Week in the Americas and World Immunisation Week, which both start this week.
Ms Wilson said parents and the public could visit health centres this week for updates on vaccine cards.
• A forum will be held on vaccines with a guest speaker from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at the St Paul Centennial Hall in Hamilton on May 7 at 5.30pm