Anti-vaxxers gaining ground in India ahead of MR immunization round

Four days after Union Home Minister Kiren Rijiju made a controversial statement about reducing Hindu population, health experts are seeing an impact on anti-vaccination campaign, which has been gaining ground in India.

A viral Whatsapp message warned parents to stay away from the Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccination drive. The message incorrectly claimed that the vaccination is meant to render children from families belonging to religious minorities impotent. “We are concerned as these messages are spreading like wildfire. It is a must to remain apolitical when it comes to the immunization policy,” Dr. Pradeep Haldar, Deputy Commissioner, Immunisation, Health Ministry.

According to sources, Mr. Rijiju’s statement is being quoted as ‘proof’ that the government is “concerned about reducing Hindu population and thereby taking measures to curb the Muslim population in the country,” said a senior official in the health ministry close to the developments.

Mr. Rijiju declined to comment.

“We got similar messages and immediately called representative of Bharatiya Janata Party in our areas. This is a political message but the fallout for our children will be devastating. We want an inclusive society, not one that fights each other,” said Sufi Mushahid Uz Zaman Khan, Chairman of the International Islamic Sufi Foundation. Interfaith leaders gathered at UNICEF’s sanitation conference in Guwahati maintained that politicising the immunization drive could jeopardize our the future of our children.

This Indian government will be targeting nearly 41 crore children in 5 states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Puducherry and Lakshadweep) in the last immunisation drive that starts this month. While the Measles-Rubella vaccines will be introduced in the drive for the first time, both vaccines have been in use for nearly five decades. As majority of the target population is in the school going age group, state governments have been banking on private and government schools to participate in the drive while messages on social media platforms urge parents to ensure their schools do not cooperate.

“Immunisation campaigns such as the recent Measles-Rubella campaign save children from severe illness and death. Vaccinations are proven to protect the lives of children and as a public health intervention they should be administered to all children, irrespective of their gender, social background, and/or their religion,” said Dr. Yaron Wolman, Chief of Health, UNICEF.

Measles is one of the major causes of death in children, with an estimated 49,200 deaths occurring due to measles in India last year. Rubella, also known as German Measles, causes a mild rash on the face, swelling of glands behind the ears, and in some cases, swelling of the small joints and low-grade fever. However, rubella infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can be devastating, leading to miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal death or set of birth defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), causing blindness, deafness, heart defects or mental retardation. Globally, more than 100,000 children are born with CRS each year.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:39:03 AM |

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