Health Minister Kim Wilson

Health Minister Kim Wilson announced ‘Bermuda’s Strategy on Vaccination Hesitancy’ plan of action to increase the island’s vaccination coverage by 10 percent by 2021.

Vaccine Hesitancy (VH), is defined as the delay or refusal of vaccinations.

Speaking at a news conference today, the Minister said the plan follows research on the delay or refusal of vaccinations, particularly for children under the age of six months.

“Bermuda, like many countries worldwide, is experiencing a growing public health concern regarding low vaccination coverage which increases our vulnerability to re-emerging vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles,” said the Minister.

“In addition, Bermuda is a major travel destination, and is at increased risk for importation of many of the vaccine preventable diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).   This is very concerning for Bermuda and poses significant implications and risk from vaccine preventable diseases.”

Under the plan, Ms Wilson said health officials will:

  • Develop a phone application to provide reliable information on vaccines, clinic services, child growth and real-time news updates
  • Implement a client exit survey to understand the delivery of vaccination services
  • Organise programmes where health professionals will take the lead in receiving vaccinations. • Create public forums for people to express concerns about vaccination

Ms Wilson noted  announced her intention to increase vaccines for children under the age of six months in April.

She also noted that the number of children who received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine had dropped to 87 percent — below the 95 per cent global target.

When combined with Bermuda’s status as a popular tourist destination, the Minister said the decreased global target, made  Bermuda more vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.

“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,” said Ms Wilson.

She also listed the following advice:

  • Parents should ensure that their children are vaccinated according to the recommended MMR vaccination schedule
  • Travellers should have the appropriate vaccinations before travelling and be aware of their health when returning home
  • Seniors should obtain the vaccinations they need to live well
  • People in occupations at higher risk of exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases should be aware of their vaccination status

The Minister added: “Preliminary ground work in Bermuda has been done by a working group including school executive PTAs, health officials and physicians to investigate and identify local concerns.

“The group helped to identify five major stumbling blocks that lead to refusal or reluctance to be vaccinated: trust, education, service delivery, effectiveness of vaccines and legislation/policy.

“Further, it was determined that the four major target groups to whom access to Bermuda’s immunization programme is crucial are parents and infants, adults, seniors, travelers, and healthcare professionals.

“The Department of Health will now be engaged in an action plan to address underlying barriers that contribute to low rates of vaccination.”

The Department of Health will:

  • Implement a client exit survey initiative to understand the delivery of vaccination services
  • Develop a phone application to provide the public with reliable information on vaccines, clinic services, child growth, and real-time news updates where needed
  • Organize the annual flu drive for staff in the fall. The Department will organize “Take the Lead” which was piloted last year in November 2018
  • Create opportunities for platforms for the public to express concerns about vaccination, including public forums similar to the forum held last month with a representative from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The Minister concluded: “The highest quality research has proven that vaccines are safe and effective.  The evidence available makes it clear that the complications from these diseases can be life threatening.

“We look forward to the public feedback and input as we continue to collaborate and make Bermuda Healthier.”