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Flu vaccine available to high-risk groups – Health Ministry

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Acting Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, says that the flu vaccine is now available to high-risk groups,

including children, the elderly and people with immuno-compromised conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

“These are the persons that we try to protect, because they are the most vulnerable to the influenza virus and so, therefore, this vaccine is available in health centres for these persons,” she said during a press conference held at the ministry’s New Kingston offices yesterday.

She noted that the ministry, at this time, does not have the capacity to vaccinate everyone that requires the flu vaccine, noting that it is also available privately, so people can visit their private health practitioners in order to get vaccinated.

“In particular, we do try to vaccinate our healthcare providers, because we realise that they may be the conduit, as they are receiving all the germs… We don’t want them to pass it on to persons, so it is very important that the healthcare provider is vaccinated as well, to ensure that they do not form a part of that problem,” Bisasor-McKenzie said.

The health ministry recommends that members of identified priority groups get the flu vaccine. These include healthcare workers; pregnant women; children over six months of age with chronic illnesses; non-health frontline workers, such as the police, army, correctional services, customs and immigration officers; Parliamentarians; institutionalised people; and the elderly over 65 years with chronic illnesses.

In the meantime, Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, is encouraging people to protect themselves and others from contracting influenza by practising proper hygiene.

“If you can get the vaccine, then fine; if not, the whole approach to sanitation – coughing, washing hands and so on – are all standard operating procedures to be absolutely cautious during the (flu) season,” he said.

More Jamaicans are prone to contracting influenza during the flu season, which begins to increase from October to November, peaks between December and March and can last until as late as May.