There is no shortage of yellow fever vaccines in T&T, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and public and private health practitioners said yesterday. Deyalsingh added that there is an adequate supply to serve those for whom it is mainly intended, namely babies.
Responding to citizens’ claims of being turned away from public health institutions because of an alleged shortage, Deyalsingh, who was admitted to hospital yesterday afternoon, said that was simply not true.
Instead, he said: “The people who are having trouble are those who have lost their immunisation cards.”
The minister spoke with the T&T Guardian hours before being admitted to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital with a high fever and fatigue complaints. A relative said last evening, however, that he was resting comfortably and had neither dengue nor the Zika, he having been tested for them as soon as he was admitted.
In discussing the vaccine issue earlier, Deyalsingh said the priority was ensuring that babies had access to the vaccine, which is required within months of being born. He challenged the nation as he asked: “Would you prefer me not to have vaccines for children and let them die?”
He said the ministry was following guidelines that were more than 40 years old.
“The fact is that people have misplaced their cards or cannot find it and that is the real problem,” he said.
He said the international immunisation cards were now required for travel to certain countries and people were unable to acquire one unless they produced their old immunisation card confirming vaccination.
Another solution was for people to be re-vaccinated, which is where Deyalsingh said the problem had arisen as they had witnessed a sudden demand for the vaccine by both young and old.
The minister advised: “Look for your card and bring it so you can get your international immunisation card. In the event that it cannot be found, a person can visit their private doctor for a vaccine.” He stressed: “Travel plans are not being derailed due to the Ministry of Health.”
The minister’s comments were echoed by well-placed sources at the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) who agreed that the recent international stipulation was the main driver behind the increased demand. The official said: “We have not catered for that as our vaccines are for the babies and they are our first priority.
“We have an adequate supply of vaccines to cater for the population that we are required to serve and that is the babies. We do not have it in our system to do a mass immunis ation drive for the public.”
He too advised the public to “do a little more checking to find their old immunisation cards,” adding: “A revaccination is of no benefit to the person as it is a one-off vaccine required at birth and it is enough to suffice for life.”
Both Deyalsingh and the NCRHA official said the vaccine could be administered to adults in special circumstances. Officials at the ministry said an order for additional vaccines was placed and the shipment was expected next month.
Yellow fever is endemic to T&T because it occurs naturally in the red howler monkey population. People are unlikely to contract it due to early immunisation.
As of June 22, the Pan American Health Organisation said re-vaccination and booster doses for yellow fever would no longer be required as one dose of the vaccine confers immunity for life. In the event that one has not been immunised, it is advisable to get vaccinated at least ten days prior to travelling.
While there has been no outbreak of yellow fever in the Caribbean, a recent outbreak was reported in Angola and reports have since surfaced of similar outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Chinam, prompting some counties to request proof of immunisation via an international immunisation card which can be obtained at any County Medical Officer of Health.
On June 24, the ministry advised persons travelling to countries within the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia that they were required to have their international immunisation card as proof of vaccination.
However, since that time, many other countries have begun insisting on the measure as a precaution to ensure there is no spread of the virus.
The ministry also pointed out that the international immunisation card was not required by people traveling to North America, Canada and Europe.
Regarding the lack of available medication administered under the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP), Deyalsingh had promised to make a comprehensive statement on the issue during today’s post-Cabinet briefing.
Officials at the NCRHA, a private doctor and patients attending both the Mt Hope Clinic and the Macoya Health Centre all confirmed the shortage.
Contracted by the ministry to provide both pharmaceuticals and non-pharmaceuticals to all public health institutions, the National Insurance Property Development Co Ltd (Nipdec) is responsible for payment to suppliers of these items with the funding being provided by Government.
Admitting that it had been experiencing an “inconsistent and unreliable supply during the last few months,” the NCRHA official assured it had vital drugs needed by departments, such as the Accident and Emergency, Intensive Care Unit and the Paediatrics Ward.
The official explained that although the medication might not be available at the Mt Hope Clinic, it did not mean it was completely unavailable throughout the region as a patient was free to take his/her prescription to any pharmacy registered with the ministry to have it filled.
Introduced in 2003, CDAP provides citizens with free prescription drugs to combat a number of ailments, including diabetes, asthma, cardiac diseases, arthritis, glaucoma, mental depression, high blood pressure, benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), epilepsy, hypercholesterolemia, parkinson’s disease and thyroid diseases.
There are over 250 pharmacies throughout the country that provide medications through CDAP.