Fifteen thousand children have not been vaccinated even though vaccinations are mandatory by law, said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands yesterday.
“We have about 15,000 kids to get, and then we believe that we want to make sure that we have excellent coverage for our police officers, for our port workers, for people that interact with our tourists,” he said.
Sands said that a vaccination rate of 95 percent is necessary for herd immunity, but the rate in The Bahamas is less than 90 percent.
“So the approach is to sensitize and educate the public about the challenges of the anti-vaccination movement and what impact it’s had on what we call ‘herd immunity’. What we would like to do is make sure that The Bahamas remains the safe place that it is for vaccine-preventable illnesses,” he said.
“We want to try to get our vaccination coverage, at least for MMR, up to about 95 percent. We’re just at about 90, which is good, but we want excellent. That way we don’t have the kinds of heart-wrenching, heartbreaking stories that you’re hearing from the U.S., or from the Philippines, or from Venezuela, or other places.”
While vaccinations are mandatory in The Bahamas, Sands said that the Vaccination Act must be updated to impose stiffer penalties on parents who do not vaccinate their children.
“The law does require that you have your child vaccinated within a certain period of time, but the Vaccination Act came out in 1860, and the penalty is only four dollars. So, I think we have to revisit this moving forward,” he said.
Asked whether we can expect those changes this year, Sands said, “It is not on this year’s agenda, because now what we have to do is look at that 150-or-so-year-old legislation and determine what is appropriate, what needs to be changed, et cetera.
“Given the fact that it hasn’t been changed in so long, we would like it to be reasonable moving forward.
“No one could have anticipated that the world would see yellow fever again, that we’d see measles again, that we’d see diphtheria again at the level that it is, that we’re seeing polio again, not in The Bahamas, but we’re seeing it around the world.
“If anyone can remember the iron lungs for people paralyzed by polio, [there was] ward after ward after ward with people unable to breathe.
“We can’t ever get back there. That’s why effective vaccination strategies are so important.”
Sands also spoke about the scabies outbreak at Sybil Strachan Primary School last week, noting that follow-ups will be conducted in the homes of those who were infected.
“Ultimately, what we’ve done is we have made sure that all of the affected or symptomatic people have gotten treatment,” he said.
“All of the teachers and staff have been counseled, and given an opportunity to get treatment, and now we have to follow up in the homes of all of the persons that are cases to deal with the contacts and to make sure that this is wiped out.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish