STATEMENT ON MEASLES OUTBREAK
BY MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MAY 7, 2019
During recent weeks, there has been a surge in the number of reported cases of measles worldwide but most notably in the United States of America. As of April 26th 2019, the Centre of Disease Control has reported 704 confirmed cases of measles across 22 states and this number is seemingly growing weekly, with newest cases now being reported in California. With international travel and tourism, there is a risk of these diseases being reintroduced in the Territory. During the week of April 29, a cruise ship was quarantined in St. Lucia after a case of measles was confirmed on board.
As a premier tourist destination, we are also particularly at risk, as the Virgin Islands receives thousands of visitors annually. According to the BVI Tourist Board, in 2018 there were approximately 408,972 visitors. A large portion of these visitors, come from countries where measles and rubella maybe everyday occurrences. This poses a significant threat to the health of the people of this Territory as it is possible that a case of measles could be introduced into the territory due to an infected visitor or returning resident who, being vulnerable may contract measles after being exposured to an infected person. These persons could then expose others who are not vaccinated, potentially creating a serious health event.
Despite the BVI being certified as measles free since 2015 by the World Health Organization, as the Minister for Health and Social Development in the Virgin Islands, I beg your indulgence that this matter not be taken lightly. The World Health Organization has reported a 300 percent increase in the number of measles cases worldwide in 2019 as compared to 2018. This increase is due to a decline in vaccination rates resulting from “vaccine fear or hesitancy”- the consequence of vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, such hesitancy has created widening pockets of unvaccinated children which have now laid the foundation to the measles outbreak currently affecting numerous countries worldwide.
Be assured that the Ministry of Health and Social Development along with the British Virgin Islands Health Services Authority remain committed to the safety of the people and are working closely with our partners in the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the Pan American Health Organization on the development and implementation of further pre-cautionary measures.
It must be emphasized that the best preventative measure against this dangerous but preventable disease is vaccination. Two doses of the measles (MMR) vaccine are essential to protect our people, especially children from this highly contagious disease. Although children are particularly at risk, adults are also vulnerable and those vaccinated between 1958-1989 must not presume to be protected and may be more vulnerable to contracting measles due to a weakening of immunity. Therefore, please confirm with your health care provider that you were vaccinated with both doses of the MMR vaccine. If not or in doubt of your immunization status, it is strongly suggested that you immunize.
We urge everyone, especially parents to speak to their healthcare provider about the importance of vaccination. In addition, we urge the healthcare providers to provide accurate, scientific-based information to counter misinformation that would deter persons from getting vaccinated.
For more information on vaccinations please contact the BVI Health Services Authority at 852-7500 or visit www.bvi.gov.vg.