World Immunization Week – Marking Jamaica’s Immunization Milestones

Public Health nurse Mavis Miller admistering polio drops to a child during a mass immunization programme in the Claremont area.
Public health nurse Mavis Miller administering polio drops to a child during a mass immunization programme in Claremont, St Ann, in 1971.

Jamaica’s immunization milestones dating back to the 19th century 

(Source: PAHO)


  • Life expectancy at birth was 38 years
  • Infant mortality was 100-200 per 1,000 live births
  • Infections including vaccine preventable diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, measles, polio, diphtheria, , etc. were the leading cause of death


  • Frequent outbreaks of polio and measles with case fatality rates ranging from 5-12%
  • Use of vaccines to control outbreaks
  • Annual mass immunization campaigns in children under age 5 years but with low coverage of around 30%
  • Small pox vaccination
  • Reduction in mortality from some infectious diseases due to improvement in sanitation and nutrition
  • Life expectancy at birth was 53 years
  • Infant mortality was 49 per 1,000 live births


  • School immunization programmes with focus on rubella vaccination for girls in the early to mid 1970s
  • Establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) by the World Health Organization
  • Establishment of a national surveillance system including for vaccine preventable diseases in 1976
  • Establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean in September 1977
  • First group of vaccines administered under the EPI programme were diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, BCG and polio
  • Annual mass immunization campaigns with increasing coverage for polio from 24% in 1974 to 45% in 1981
  • Measles vaccine introduced in 1980
  • Major polio outbreak in 1982 with 60 confirmed cases. Of these, 3 died, 18 were partially disabled, 27 permanently paralyzed and 12 recovered.
  • Mass polio campaign for the entire country targeting persons under 30 years old. Coverage in children 0-14 years was 70%.  The management of the outbreak cost the country some JA$4M
  • Last reported case of polio in 1982
  • Promulgation of Immunization Regulations in 1986
  • Establishment of a Rubella Unit at Salvation Army to manage children born blind due to congenital rubella syndrome.


  • Measles outbreak with some 13,000 cases and 18 deaths from 1989-1991
  • Last case of local measles in Jamaica in 1991
  • MMR vaccine introduced in 1993
  • Outbreaks of rubella in 1991, 1995 and 1997
  • Mass campaigns with MMR vaccine to eliminate measles and rubella
  • Last case of diphtheria in 1995
  • Last case of congenital rubella syndrome in 1998
  • Last case of rubella in 2000
  • Chronic non-communicable diseases now the leading cause of death in Jamaica
  • Infant mortality now at 24 per 1,000 live births
  • Average immunization coverage increased to 89% for children under 2 years
  • Closure of the Salvation Army’s Rubella Unit


  • Last case of newborn tetanus in 2001
  • Introduction of vaccines against Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b
  • Importations of measles cases but with no local transmission or outbreaks
  • Introduction and annual observation of Vaccination Week in the Americas
  • Average immunization coverage continued to increase to 93-94% for children under 2 years in 2010-2011
  • Documentation and verification of elimination of measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in Jamaica- July 2011
  • Jamaica wins PAHO Caribbean EPI award in recognition of excellent effort to improve the Immunization programme

Read more

  1. WHO immunization fact sheet
  2. How Vaccines Work