The Ministry of Health has made it clear that its decision to discontinue routine administration of BCG vaccine to children under five years old does not put children at risk for tuberculosis or any other disease.
Addressing concerns raised by the media, the Ministry, in a statement today, stressed that the BCG vaccine does not prevent tuberculosis.
“The BCG vaccine is indicated for children less than five years who may be at risk of developing complications of tuberculosis disease. It should be given before one year of age to be most effective. The BCG vaccine does not prevent tuberculosis, only complications of the disease in children less than five years old.”
The vaccine will therefore now only be administered to children under five years of age who frequent or are emigrating to countries that have a high burden of tuberculosis disease, the Ministry stated.
The Ministry explained that its decision to discontinue routine administration of the vaccine to all children under five was based on Barbados being “a low-burdened tuberculosis country”, which meant that very few cases of tuberculosis disease were seen. There were in fact no cases documented in 2015, the last year for which published data is available, it revealed.
The decision was made by an Evaluation Committee, which comprised several local experts, including private doctors, in areas such as infection control, vaccines, paediatrics, public health and research, the statement said.
It added: “The committee’s recommendations were based on international best practices, extensive research and recommendations made by the World Health Organisation’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and Vaccine Preventable Diseases; and the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation.”
The Ministry noted that Barbados was not the first country in the Caribbean to take this step. Trinidad and Tobago made the same decision in 1976 and the Bahamas in 1981. Internationally, Australia discontinued the vaccine to all children in 1995 followed by Sweden in 2005.
The Ministry explained that at-risk children will be identified by their private or public health care provider during routine health checks and referred to the Winston Scott Polyclinic to be immunised.
Paediatricians, polyclinic staff and general practitioners have been sensitised about the change in the administration of the BCG vaccine, the statement revealed, and are equipped to discuss any concerns and answer questions.
The Ministry made it clear that the decision to discontinue the routine administration of the vaccine to all children had nothing to do with costs, since the vaccine, which has been in existence since the 1900s, was very inexpensive.
“The removal of this vaccine from the routine schedule has not decreased the budget allocated to vaccines by the Ministry of Health.
“The Ministry remains committed to the Expanded Programme of Immunisation and its goal to reduce vaccine preventable diseases in Barbados,” the statement affirmed.